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THE GENIUS OF JOHN BUSKIN 



The Genius of John Ruskin 



Selections 

from 

His 

Writings 

Edited 

with an introduction 

by 

John D. Rosenberg 



GEORGE BRAZILLER • NEW YORK 




Copyright © 1963 by John D. Rosenberg 

First Printing 

All rights in this book are reserved. For information, address the 
publisher, George Braziller, Inc., 215 Park Avenue South New York 3 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-17875 
Printed in the United States of America 



CONTENTS 



INTRODUCTION 9 

by John D. Rosenberg 

Art 

Introduction 17 

MODERN PAINTERS 

Definition of Greatness in Art 22 

That the Truth of Nature Is Not to Be 

Discerned by the Uneducated Senses 23 

Of Truth of Space 25 

Of Water, as Painted by Turner 32 

Of the Received Opinions 

Touching the "Grand Style" 42 

Of the Naturalist Ideal 55 

Of the Pathetic Fallacy 61 

Of Classical Landscape 72 

Of Modern Landscape 83 

The Mountain Gloom 91 

The Lance of Pallas 97 

The Two Boyhoods 106 

Epilogue 119 

Architecture 

Introduction 121 



THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE 

The Lamp of Truth 124 

The Lamp of Memory 131 

THE STONES OF VENICE 

The Quarry 139 

The Throne 150 

Torcello 155 

St. Mark's 161 

The Nature of Gothic 170 

Roman Renaissance 196 

Grotesque Renaissance 204 

Society 

Introduction 219 

THE TWO PATHS 

Modern Manufacture and Design 223 

UNTO THIS LAST 

The Roots of Honour 229 

The Veins of Wealth 244 

Ad Valorem 254 

THE CROWN OF WILD OLIVE 

Traffic ■ 273 

SESAME AND LILIES 

Of Kings' Treasuries 296 

Solitude 

Introduction 315 

SESAME AND LILIES 

The Mystery of Life and Its Arts 323 

THE QUEEN OF THE AIR 

Athena Keramitis 356 

FORS CLAVIGERA 

The White-Thorn Blossom 362 

Charitas 374 

Vol di Nievole 378 



Benediction 385 

The Squirrel Cage: 

English Servitude 398 

The Advent Collect 402 

The Catholic Prayer 413 

The Fatherland 417 

Star Law 419 

Our Battle Is Immortal 424 

The Convents of St. Quentin 428 

FICTION, FAIR AND FOUL 

Essay I 435 

THE STORM-CLOUD OF THE 

NINETEENTH CENTURY 
Lecture I 445 



Self 

Introduction 455 

PRAETERITA 

Preface 460 

The Springs of Wandel 461 

Herne-Hill Almond Blossoms 479 

Schaffhausen and Milan 489 

Papa and Mamma 502 

The Col de la Faucille 507 

Quern Tu, Melpomene 516 

Fontainebleau 521 

The Simplon 527 

The Grande Chartreuse 533 

L'Esterelle 542 

Joanna's Care 546 

CHRONOLOGY 551 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Works by Ruskin 557 

Works About Ruskin 558 



INTRODUCTION 



John D. Rosenberg 



At the turn of the century a young litterateur in Paris and 
an Indian lawyer in Johannesburg discovered Ruskin, and 
in so doing discovered themselves. "He will enable my 
spirit," Proust wrote in the first fervors of discipleship, "to 
enter regions to which formerly it had no access, for he is 
the gate." Gandhi wrote in his autobiography that reading 
Unto This Last had awakened some of his deepest convic- 
tions and transformed his life. The list might be extended — 
William Morris and Ezra Pound, Tolstoy and Clement 
Attlee, Bernard Shaw and Frank Lloyd Wright — but the 
additions only heighten one's perplexity that a single mind 
could so decisively influence such diverse men. 

At the age of nine Ruskin began an epic "Poem on the 
Universe." His subject remained the world, to which he re- 
sponded with a baffling multiplicity of judgments. In the 
1840s he saw in Turner, and taught a visually retarded gen- 
eration to see, a revolutionary truth to the visible world 
which had never before been rendered on canvas. But in the 
1870s his prejudices blinded him to the achievement of the 
French impressionists, although they exemplified the very 
principles he had discovered in Turner thirty years earlier. 
Modern architects unwittingly borrow his vocabulary — 
"organic form," harmony of function and design, frank dis- 
play of structure and materials — and often build upon his 
principles. Yet he opposed the use of the new materials 
which have made architecture the most vital of modern 



10 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

arts.* As an economist and social critic, he succeeded more 
than any other English writer in moderating the barbarisms 
of nineteenth-century laissez faire and persuading his coun- 
trymen that starvation in the streets of their prosperous 
capital was not a "law of nature" but an affront to human- 
ity. Yet he despised parliamentary reforms, ballot boxes, 
labor unions, indeed the whole egalitarian structure of the 
Welfare State that he helped bring into being. "I am, and 
my father was before me, a violent Tory of the old school; — 
Walter Scott's school, that is to say, and Homer's." So begins 
Prceterita, the autobiography of this great nineteenth-cen- 
tury radical who, with equal justice, described himself as 
"the reddest also of the red." One cannot read Ruskin for 
very long without a sense of bafflement, perhaps of rage, 
but always of revelation. 

His works are as burdened with contradiction as experi- 
ence itself. Perhaps that is what Shaw meant when he said 
that few men have embodied our manifold nature more 
markedly than Ruskin. Endowed with a great mind yet re- 
taining the emotions of a child, noble and narrow, dog- 
matic and yielding, immoderate both in delight and despair, 
arrogant and gentle, self-obsessed and self-sacrificing, com- 
pulsively communicative yet solitary, prophetic and blind, 
Ruskin was always changing and always himself. Even his 
contradictions have a certain consistency. At different stages 
of life he reacted differently to the same things; yet each re- 
sponse was absolute in its integrity, reflecting a unity of 
sensibility rather than of system. Throughout his career his 
mind was capable of change, and hence of growth; but the 
change, as he once remarked, was that of a tree, not of a 
cloud. 

During the half century since Ruskin's death in 1900, his 

* And also, at times, the most sterile. The blank glitter of the lifeless 
slab flashed on Ruskin's mind almost a century before it was to rise 
in reduplicated regularity: "You shall draw out your plates of glass," 
he predicted, "and beat out your bars of iron till you have encom- 
passed us all . . . with endless perspective of black skeleton and blind- 
ing square." 



INTRODUCTION 11 

genius lay buried under the bulk of his own words. The 
standard edition of his Works contains thirty-nine oversized 
volumes; most modern readers are less aware of their con- 
tents than of the psychological aberrations of their author. 
He has never regained the reputation he held among his 
contemporaries, nor has he attracted the widespread critical 
attention that has recently illuminated the achievement of 
Dickens or Hopkins. Ruskin's early critics were for the most 
part pious eulogists who portrayed him as far tidier and 
less vital than he is. Between the world wars everything Vic- 
torian was so patently repugnant that it was an easy leap 
to equate the platitudes of the disciples with the perceptions 
of the master, and to reject them both. At the time of Rus- 
kin's death, few men would have doubted the justice of 
Tolstoy's praise; until recently few would have believed it: 
"Ruskin was one of the most remarkable men, not only of 
England and our time, but of all countries and all times. 
He was one of those rare men who think with their hearts, 
and so he thought and said not only what he himself had 
seen and felt, but what everyone will think and say in the 
future." 

Now that the revaluation of the Victorians is solidly under 
way, we can recognize their creative exuberance as matched 
only by that of the Elizabethans. As they recede from us in 
time, they come closer to us in spirit, until the generation of 
stern prophets and self-assured dogmatists appears strangely 
perplexed, less certain of themselves and their world than 
they cared to admit, and far more like ourselves than we 
ever suspected. But the rush of reawakened sympathy has 
lacked true discernment. If we recognize that Gerard Manley 
Hopkins is a great poet, we have yet to acknowledge that 
Matthew Arnold is a bad one. Dickens and Meredith, Mill 
and Macaulay, Ruskin and Carlyle are studied in our uni- 
versities as equal eminences. Thirty years from now such 
pairings may seem as indiscriminate as those of Shakespeare 
and Kyd, Blake and Gray. 

Of all the Victorians, Ruskin has least found his deserved 



12 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

place among his contemporaries or in our literature at 
large. The great Library Edition of his Works has served as 
his monument in a sense unintended by its editors, and the 
selections available to the general reader have not made 
resurrection seem especially worthwhile. In our century 
Ruskin has been read in outdated, truncated fragments in 
which the sustained sweep, eccentricity, and uniquely per- 
sonal voice of his genius are altogether obscured. The result 
has been a popular image of Ruskin at once absurd and 
contradictory: the arch-aesthete and word-painter who 
somehow fostered wedding-cake Gothic, Walter Pater, and 
I'art pour Vart; and the puritanical preacher, an effete ap- 
pendage of Carlyle who overmoralized art and vainly casti- 
gated society. Perhaps the present volume will replace the 
caricature with an authentic portrait. Ideally, it may ac- 
complish for Ruskin what Arnold's edition of Wordsworth 
did in the late nineteenth century — put in the hands of the 
educated reader some of the finest work of an author en- 
cumbered at his death by uncritical reverence and then 
eclipsed by undeserved neglect. 

Ruskin's genius was a unique fusion of the capacity to 
see with the amazed eyes of a child and to reason with a 
mind as swift and penetrating as any that England has pro- 
duced. He once praised the artist's ability to recover "inno- 
cence of the eye ... a sort of childish perception of flat 
stains of colour, merely as such, without consciousness of 
what they signify, — as a blind man would see them if 
suddenly gifted with sight." Anyone who has read Ruskin 
closely has known that moment when the veil of familiarity 
abruptly lifts and one feels, as Charlotte Bronte did on first 
reading Modern Painters, that he has been given a new 
sense — sight. This incapacity to become habituated to the 
world was the one talent on which all his others depended. 

The intensity of Ruskin's perceptions imprisoned him in 
a private universe where each glance was a revelation but 
there were no eyes other than his own. In Benjamin Jowett's 



INTRODUCTION 13 

phrase, "Ruskin never rubbed his mind against others." He 
had two masters — Turner and Carlyle — and many disciples, 
but no colleagues. His intellectual isolation was very nearly 
absolute; to it he owed his occasional arrogance and fre- 
quent eccentricity. 

Ruskin faltered away from himself only in some of his 
early prose, which is marred by a self-conscious literary 
gesticulation. At times the first two volumes of Modern 
Painters bog down in stretches of starchy rhetoric. But the 
same volumes contain passages which, despite their massed 
splendor, dazzle the reader less with their magnificence than 
with their truth. Nonetheless, it was the chief provocation of 
Ruskin's life to be praised merely for putting words together 
prettily; since he is best known today for his virtuoso pieces, 
the illusion persists that he was a fine writer who said 
foolish things. 

Ruskin's style is as varied as his subjects or moods. In 
youth, when his feeling for physical beauty was keenest, he 
described nature with an almost audible laughter of delight 
at his power to make words follow his will. "There is the 
strong instinct in me/' he wrote to his father, "which I can- 
not analyse — to draw and describe the things I love ... a 
sort of instinct like that for eating or drinking." One of his 
strongest loves was for the "wild, various, fantastic, tame- 
less unity of the sea." For some thirty pages in Modern 
Painters he wrote of the sea with a sustained exaltation 
unequaled in English, except perhaps for Bunyan's descrip- 
tion of the pilgrims crossing the river of death and entering 
the gates of heaven. The standard excerpts from Modern 
Painters mute the larger rhythms of these prose hymns to 
nature, destroying the cumulative effect of Ruskin's impas- 
sioned precision. 

The prose of his middle period gains in subtlety without 
losing force. The reader still hears sonorous echoes from the 
King James version of the Bible, but in Unto This Last one 
is less conscious of Ruskin's mastery of the cadenced music 
of words than of the thrust of his logic and the lucidity of 



14 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

his rage. More and more he revised in order to be concise 
instead of eloquent. The counterpoint of balanced clauses 
becomes less conspicuous; assonance predominates over the 
more obvious effects of alliteration; sound and sense form a 
single tissue of expression in which the substitution of a 
word, the alteration of a vowel, distort both music and 
meaning. 

As Ruskin's sense of the mystery and terror of life deep- 
ened, his prose became more intimate, achieving the final 
eloquence of simplicity. He had always felt the need to re- 
cord all that he had ever seen or thought or felt. But in his 
later books, above all in Fors Clavigera, he wrote less to 
register his observations than to voice his perplexity and 
pain, to escape from an enfolding isolation that found him 
beloved yet incapable of loving, ever in company yet ever 
alone. As the inner pressures mounted, he brought to bear 
upon his own psyche the great gifts of penetration and ex- 
pression that he had previously focused upon external na- 
ture. He became his own subject; simultaneously, the tone 
of his prose shifted. The stately piling up of clauses, per- 
fectly suited to his Alpine descriptions and towering hopes, 
yielded to a subtler, quieter style which registers the very 
pulsations of his grief and is as moving as his earlier prose is 
magnificent. 

His late voice is rich in all the nuances of speech, capable 
almost of physical gesture. We become oblivious of the 
printed word and follow instead the elusive soliloquy of a 
mind so habituated to solitude that we seem to overhear it 
thinking aloud. Nothing else is quite so daringly inconse- 
quent, so immediate, so capable of communicating the music 
of consciousness itself. Joyce's interior monologues are, by 
comparison, contrived declamations. The range and inex- 
haustible vitality of Ruskin's many styles are unsurpassed in 
English prose. 

In his diary Ruskin describes a nightmare in which a 
skilled surgeon takes a scalpel to his skull and proceeds to 
dissect himself. Ruskin's self-anatomizing in his books is no 
less incisive, but the horror is transmuted into a terrible 



INTRODUCTION 15 

beauty. We may for the moment discount the revolutionary 
importance of his criticism of the world around him. There 
remains the world he discovered within himself, a world 
which he delineated on every page he wrote and which 
constitutes the most animate record of genius ever preserved 
in words. 



A Note on the Selections 

In the selections that follow, I have stressed the five 
books which most richly display the temper of Ruskin's 
mind. The first, Modern Painters, was begun when Ruskin 
was in his early twenties. The others — The Stones of Venice, 
Unto This Last, Fors Clavigera, and Prceterita — were writ- 
ten in each of the successive decades of his career, Prceterita 
marking his end as a writer. The selections are necessarily 
fragmentary. But they are designed to preserve, within the 
limits of a single manageable volume, the integrity of 
Ruskin's most important books in the order in which they 
were written. 

Nothing has been chosen merely because it is felicitous; 
nothing has been omitted merely because it contains a prej- 
udice offensive to the modern reader. Several selections are 
anthologized for the first time. They are included less for 
their novelty than for their illumination of the patterns of 
thought linking Ruskin's major works. Such light is espe- 
cially needful because, with few exceptions, Ruskin's books 
are fragments of a splendid but shattered design which each 
reader must ultimately compose in his own mind. My pur- 
pose has been to present that pattern as fully as possible and 
with a minimum of distortion. 

The text of the selections is that of the authoritative 
Library Edition of Ruskin's Works, published by George 
Allen (London, 1903-12). Portions of the editor's introduc- 
tions have previously appeared in The Darkening Glass: 
A Portrait of Ruskin's Genius. 



Art 



Modern Painters is the first book on art by an English 
writer of pre-eminent intellectual power; it remains perhaps 
the finest. 

The genesis of Modern Painters may be traced to the 
patterned carpet on Ruskin's nursery floor. His mother, a 
puritanical Scot, allowed him neither playmates nor play- 
things. Ruskin passed his childhood in serene but unrelent- 
ing solitude, forced to find in his powers of observation the 
chief pleasures of his being. Alone in the nursery or en- 
closed in the walled garden of his home at Heme Hill, he 
examined the patterns of carpet and leaf with the same 
fanatic fidelity of perception which he later focused on the 
landscapes of Turner and the jeweled surfaces of Fra 
Angelico. 

On his thirteenth birthday Ruskin was given a copy of 
Samuel Rogers's Italy with illustrations by Turner; the gift 
initiated him into his life's work, for in Turner's vignettes 
he discovered the divinity of nature which he was later to 
celebrate in Modern Painters. When he was seventeen, Rus- 
kin wrote a precocious defense of Turner in reply to an 
attack published in Blackwood's Magazine. Turner's reputa- 
tion had long been established, but the critics denounced 
the bold and luminous compositions of his great final pe- 
riod. On Turner's advice, Ruskin did not publish the article. 
But in defending Turner against Blackwood's' charge of 



18 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

ludicrous distortion of nature, he laid the groundwork for 
Modern Painters. 

Modern Painters would be less perplexing if Ruskin had 
known more about art when he began it, or learned less in 
the course of its composition. The first volume appeared in 
1843, when he was twenty-four and still quite ignorant of 
art. The fifth and final volume was published in 1860, 
when his interest had shifted from art and nature to society 
and man. The point of view remained constant; the range 
of vision widened enormously. 

Two years after publishing the first volume, Ruskin set 
out on one of the most memorable journeys of his life. 
Traveling without his parents for the first time, he was 
overwhelmed in Italy by a wealth of beauty of which he had 
known almost nothing. The tour culminated in Venice, at 
the Scuola di San Rocco, where the power of Tintoretto 
struck him with the force of a revelation. "I never was so 
utterly crushed to the earth before any human intellect," 
he wrote to his father, "as I was to-day — before Tintoret." 

Ruskin returned to England in the autumn of 1845. The 
second volume of Modern Painters, published six months 
later, is a testament to his newborn love of Italian art; Tin- 
toretto and Fra Angelico nearly usurp the places of Turner 
and nature. The third and fourth volumes did not appear 
until 1856, well after Ruskin's visit to the Scuola di San 
Rocco had led him to postpone Modern Painters and begin 
the long digression which produced The Stones of Venice. 

The temper as well as the direction of Ruskin's thought 
was changing. In 1858, two years before completing Modern 
Painters, he experienced a religious "unconversion" as cru- 
cial to the final form of the book as his discovery of Tin- 
toretto or his architectural studies in Venice. One day in 
Turin he walked out of a dim Waldensian chapel in dis- 
gust at a sermon on the wickedness of the wide world. He 
wandered through the festive streets of the "condemned 
city" to the Royal Gallery, where, looking at Veronese's 
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba glowing in the sunlight, 



ART 19 

he abandoned the evangelicalism which had obtruded into 
the first two volumes of Modern Painters. Ruskin's religious 
and aesthetic responses were complementary aspects of a 
single emotion; his shutting of the door of the sectarian 
chapel coincided with his espousal of humanism in the 
later volumes, with their praise of Veronese, of "The Nat- 
uralist Ideal," and of the power and glory of man. 

That glory takes on a darker coloring in the last chapters 
of Modern Painters, for Ruskin had become less moved by 
the beauty of art and nature than by the pathos and terror 
of life. The tone of the first two volumes is pious and lyrical; 
that of the later volumes is humanistic and tragic. In Mod- 
ern Painters I and II Ruskin looked at mountain peaks and 
saw God; in Modern Painters III, IV, and V he looked at 
their bases and saw shattered rocks and impoverished vil- 
lages. The face of the Creator gradually withdrew from 
the creation and in its place man emerged as a tragic figure 
in the foreground of a still potent, but flawed, nature. With 
that emergence, Ruskin's interest moved from mountains 
to men, from art to society. 

The selections that follow mirror the evolution of Rus- 
kin's thought during the eighteen-year period in which he 
wrote Modern Painters. In the early chapters he was still 
very much a Romantic, seeing nature through Turner's eyes 
and writing of her with a religious fervor akin to Words- 
worth's. The invocations to nature throughout Modern 
Painters suggest that the book belongs as much to the 
history of Romanticism as to the history of art. Turner 
serves as an artist-priest who interprets the visible world 
through the divine hieroglyph of art. Ruskin tries to open 
the eyes of his readers to this new scripture, enlarging their 
sensibilities and revolutionizing the appreciation of art as 
Wordsworth and Coleridge had revolutionized the appre- 
ciation of poetry. Modern Painters is the last great state- 
ment of the English Romantic renovation of sensibility, as 
the Lyrical Ballads is the first. Nature is the central term in 
both, Wordsworth equating it with simplicity in his attack 



20 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

on eighteenth-century poetry, Ruskin with truth in his at- 
tack on the "Grand Style" in art. 

Almost all of the selections from Volumes I and III are 
addressed to the great theoretical question of Modern Paint- 
ers, the nature of truth in art. I have omitted Ruskin's ex- 
tended discussion of "Ideas of Beauty" in Volume II, but I 
should call the reader's attention to two notable chapters 
within that volume. One is on "The Imagination Pene- 
trative," a subject to which Ruskin returns conclusively in 
the anthologized chapter, "Of the Naturalist Ideal." In 
the other, "The Theoretic Faculty," he distinguishes be- 
tween aesthesis, the mere sensuous pleasure one takes in 
art, and theoria, the response to beauty of one's total moral 
being. By the end of the century Ruskin's distinction had 
been forgotten, and the aesthetes became entrapped in the 
sterile pursuit of art for art's sake. Throughout Modern 
Painters Ruskin opposed the separation of art from life not 
because he feared what was lovely but because he felt it 
too important to be divorced from what was good and true. 

The closing selections mark the transition from the God- 
in-Nature of Modern Painters I to the Satanic Nature of 
The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century. Ruskin star- 
tlingly juxtaposes the two natures in the final chapters of 
Volume IV — "The Mountain Gloom" and "The Mountain 
Glory." The latter is a hymn of praise to the "great cathe- 
drals of the earth," with their gates of rock and vaults of 
purple. But the chapter on mountain gloom plunges us 
into a wasteland of blighted Alpine villages where life ebbs 
away, buildings crumble, and weeds grow in place of 
flowers. 

Turner, the priest of the sacredness of nature in Modern 
Painters I, now exemplifies in his Alpine sketches the unre- 
deemed pathos Ruskin had begun to see everywhere in the 
nineteenth century. Turner remains the painter of "the 
loveliness of nature," but a nature "with the worm at its 
root." This change is most marked in the extraordinary 
chapter on "The Two Boyhoods" of Giorgione and Turner. 






ART 21 

The chapter opens with an ornate description of the shim- 
mering sea-city of marble and gold where Giorgione was 
born. At the point of excess, Ruskin's prose abruptly modu- 
lates to the squalid actuality of the London slums where 
Turner spent his youth, picking up his first bits of vigorous 
English around wharves and markets filled with offal. 
Turner paints nature because he cannot find beauty else- 
where. Of the life of "multitudinous, marred humanity," he 
paints only labor, sorrow, and death. 

The chapter ends with a description of the marred hu- 
manity which, during Turner's youth, had died on the bat- 
tlefields of Europe and in the industrial centers of England, 
its life "trampled out in the slime of the street, crushed to 
dust amidst the roaring of the wheel . . . rotted down to 
forgotten graves through years of ignorant patience, and 
vain seeking for help from man." 

Ruskin published the volume containing "The Two 
Boyhoods" in the spring of 1860. He had at last completed 
the long labor of Modern Painters and went abroad to 
Chamonix. There, in the shadow of the same mountains 
which had inspired the most eloquent passages of Modern 
Painters, he wrote the opening chapter of Unto This Last. 

-J. D. R. 



MODERN PAINTERS 



Definition 
of Greatness 
in Art 

Painting, or art generally, as such, with all its technicalities, 
difficulties, and particular ends, is nothing but a noble and 
expressive language, invaluable as the vehicle of thought, 
but by itself nothing. He who has learned what is commonly 
considered the whole art of painting, that is, the art of 
representing any natural object faithfully, has as yet only 
learned the language by which his thoughts are to be ex- 
pressed. He has done just as much towards being that which 
we ought to respect as a great painter, as a man who has 
learnt how to express himself grammatically and melodi- 
ously has towards being a great poet. The language is, in- 
deed, more difficult of acquirement in the one case than in 
the other, and possesses more power of delighting the sense, 
while it speaks to the intellect; but it is, nevertheless, noth- 
ing more than language, and all those excellences which are 
peculiar to the painter as such, are merely what rhythm, 
melody, precision, and force are in the words of the orator 
and the poet, necessary to their greatness, but not the tests 
of their greatness. It is not by the mode of representing and 
saying, but by what is represented and said, that the respec- 
tive greatness either of the painter or the writer is to be 
finally determined. . . . 

If I say that the greatest picture is that which conveys to 
the mind of the spectator the greatest number of the greatest 
ideas, I have a definition which will include as subjects of 
comparison every pleasure which art is capable of convey- 



TRUTH OF NATURE 23 

ing. If I were to say, on the contrary, that the best picture 
was that which most closely imitated nature, I should as- 
sume that art could only please by imitating nature; and I 
should cast out of the pale of criticism those parts of works 
of art which are not imitative, that is to say, intrinsic 
beauties of colour and form, and those works of art wholly, 
which, like the Arabesques of Raffaelle in the Loggias, are 
not imitative at all. Now, I want a definition of art wide 
enough to include all its varieties of aim. I do not say, there- 
fore, that the art is greatest which gives most pleasure, be- 
cause perhaps there is some art whose end is to teach, and 
not to please. I do not say that the art is greatest which 
teaches us most, because perhaps there is some art whose end 
is to please, and not to teach. I do not say that the art is 
greatest which imitates best, because perhaps there is some 
art whose end is to create and not to imitate. But I say that 
the art is greatest which conveys to the mind of the spectator, 
by any means whatsoever, the greatest number of the great- 
est ideas; and I call an idea great in proportion as it is re- 
ceived by a higher faculty of the mind, and as it more fully 
occupies, and in occupying, exercises and exalts, the faculty 
by which it is received. 

If this, then, be the definition of great art, that of a great 
artist naturally follows. He is the greatest artist who has em- 
bodied, in the sum of his works, the greatest number of the 
greatest ideas. [Vol. I, Part 1, Sec. 1, Chap. 2] 

That the Truth of Nature 
Is Not to Be Discerned 
by the Uneducated Senses 

It is possible for all men, by care and attention, to form a 
just judgment of the fidelity of artists to nature. To do this 
no peculiar powers of mind are required, no sympathy with 
particular feelings, nothing which every man of ordinary 
intellect does not in some degree possess, — powers, namely, 



24 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

of observation and intelligence, which by cultivation may 
be brought to a high degree of perfection and acuteness. But 
until this cultivation has been bestowed, and until the in- 
strument thereby perfected has been employed in a con- 
sistent series of careful observations, it is as absurd as it is 
audacious to pretend to form any judgment whatsoever re- 
specting the truth of art: and my first business, before going 
a step farther, must be to combat the nearly universal error 
of belief among the thoughtless and unreflecting, that they 
know either what nature is, or what is like her; that they can 
discover truth by instinct, and that their minds are such 
pure Venice glass as to be shocked by all treachery. I have 
to prove to them that there are more things in heaven and 
earth than are dreamed of in their philosophy, and that the 
truth of nature is a part of the truth of God; to him who 
does not search it out, darkness, as it is to him who does, 
infinity. 

The first great mistake that people make in the matter, is 
the supposition that they must see a thing if it be before 
their eyes. . . . And what is here said, which all must feel by 
their own experience to be true, is more remarkably and 
necessarily the case with sight than with any other of the 
senses, for this reason, that the ear is not accustomed to ex- 
ercise constantly its functions of hearing; it is accustomed to 
stillness, and the occurrence of a sound of any kind what- 
soever is apt to awake attention, and be followed with per- 
ception, in proportion to the degree of sound; but the eye 
during our waking hours, exercises constantly its function 
of seeing; it is its constant habit; we always, as far as the 
bodily organ is concerned, see something, and we always see 
in the same degree; so that the occurrence of sight, as such, 
to the eye, is only the continuance of its necessary state of 
action, and awakes no attention whatsoever, except by the 
particular nature and quality of the sight. And thus, unless 
the minds of men are particularly directed to the impres- 
sions of sight, objects pass perpetually before the eyes with- 
out conveying any impression to the brain at all; and so 



OF TRUTH OF SPACE 25 

pass actually unseen, not merely unnoticed, but in the full 
clear sense of the word unseen. . . . 

With this kind of bodily sensibility to colour and form is 
intimately connected that higher sensibility which we revere 
as one of the chief attributes of all noble minds, and as the 
chief spring of real poetry. I believe this kind of sensibility 
may be entirely resolved into the acuteness of bodily sense 
of which I have been speaking, associated with love, love I 
mean in its infinite and holy functions, as it embraces divine 
and human and brutal intelligences, and hallows the physi- 
cal perception of external objects by association, gratitude, 
veneration, and other pure feelings of our moral nature. 
And although the discovery of truth is in itself altogether 
intellectual, and dependent merely on our powers of phys- 
ical perception and abstract intellect, wholly independent of 
our moral nature, yet these instruments (perception and 
judgment) are so sharpened and brightened, and so far more 
swiftly and effectively used, when they have the energy and 
passion of our moral nature to bring them into action — 
perception is so quickened by love, and judgment so tem- 
pered by veneration, that, practically, a man of deadened 
moral sensation is always dull in his perception of truth. 

[Vol. I, Part 2, Sec. 1, Chap. 2] 



Of Truth of Space 

We have seen how indistinctness of individual distances 
becomes necessary in order to express the adaptation of the 
eye to one or other of them; we have now to examine that 
kind of indistinctness which is dependent on real retirement 
of the object, even when the focus of the eye is fully concen- 
trated upon it. The first kind of indecision is that which 
belongs to all objects which the eye is not adapted to, 
w r hether near or far off: the second is that consequent upon 
the want of power in the eye to receive a clear image of ob- 



26 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

jects at a great distance from it, however attentively it may 
regard them. 

Draw on a piece of white paper a square and a circle, each 
about a twelfth or eighth of an inch in diameter, and 
blacken them so that their forms may be very distinct; place 
your paper against the wall at the end of the room, and re- 
tire from it a greater or less distance accordingly as you have 
drawn the figures larger or smaller. You will come to a point 
where, though you can see both the spots with perfect plain- 
ness, you cannot tell which is the square and which the 
circle. 

Now this takes place of course with every object in a land- 
scape, in proportion to its distance and size. The definite 
forms of the leaves of a tree, however sharply and separately 
they may appear to come against the sky, are quite indis- 
tinguishable at fifty yards off, and the form of everything 
becomes confused before we finally lose sight of it. Now if 
the character of an object, say the front of a house, be ex- 
plained by a variety of forms in it, as the shadows in the 
tops of the windows, the lines of the architraves, the seams 
of the masonry, etc.; these lesser details, as the object falls 
into distance, become confused and undecided, each of them 
losing its definite form, but all being perfectly visible as 
something, a white or a dark spot or stroke, not lost sight 
of, observe, but yet so seen that we cannot tell what they 
are. As the distance increases, the confusion becomes greater, 
until at last the whole front of the house becomes merely a 
flat pale space, in which, however, there is still observable 
a kind of richness and chequering, caused by the details in 
it, which, though totally merged and lost in the mass, have 
still an influence on the texture of that mass; until at last 
the whole house itself becomes a mere light or dark spot 
which we can plainly see, but cannot tell what it is, nor dis- 
tinguish it from a stone or any other object. 

Now what I particularly wish to insist upon, is the state 
of vision in which all the details of an object are seen, and 
yet seen in such confusion and disorder that we cannot in 



OF TRUTH OF SPACE 27 

the least tell what they are, or what they mean. It is not mist 
between us and the object, still less is it shade, still less is it 
want of character; it is a confusion, a mystery, an interfering 
of undecided lines with each other, not a diminution of their 
number; window and door, architrave and frieze, all are 
there: it is no cold and vacant mass, it is full and rich and 
abundant, and yet you cannot see a single form so as to 
know what it is. Observe your friend's face as he is coming 
up to you. First it is nothing more than a white spot; now 
it is a face, but you cannot see the two eyes, nor the mouth, 
even as spots; you see a confusion of lines, a something 
which you know from experience to be indicative of a face, 
and yet you cannot tell how it is so. Now he is nearer, and 
you can see the spots for the eyes and mouth, but they are 
not blank spots neither; there is detail in them; you cannot 
see the lips, nor the teeth, nor the brows, and yet you see 
more than mere spots; it is a mouth and an eye, and there 
is light and sparkle and expression in them, but nothing 
distinct. Now he is nearer still, and you can see that he is 
like your friend, but you cannot tell whether he is, or not; 
there is a vagueness and indecision of line still. Now you 
are sure, but even yet there are a thousand things in his face 
which have their effect in inducing the recognition, but 
which you cannot see so as to know what they are. 

Changes like these, and states of vision corresponding to 
them, take place with each and all of the objects of nature, 
and two great principles of truth are deducible from their 
observation. First, place an object as close to the eye as you 
like, there is always something in it which you cannot see, 
except in the hinted and mysterious manner above de- 
scribed. You can see the texture of a piece of dress, but you 
cannot see the individual threads which compose it, though 
they are all felt, and have each of them influence on the eye. 
Secondly, place an object as far from the eye as you like, and 
until it becomes itself a mere spot, there is always something 
in it which you can see, though only in the hinted manner 
above described. Its shadows and lines and local colours are 



28 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

not lost sight of as it retires; they get mixed and indistin- 
guishable, but they are still there, and there is a difference 
always perceivable between an object possessing such details 
and a flat or vacant space. The grass blades of a meadow a 
mile off, are so far discernible that there will be a marked 
difference between its appearance and that of a piece of 
wood painted green. And thus nature is never distinct and 
never vacant, she is always mysterious, but always abundant; 
you always see something, but you never see all. 

And thus arise that exquisite finish and fulness which God 
has appointed to be the perpetual source of fresh pleasure 
to the cultivated and observant eye; a finish which no dis- 
tance can render invisible, and no nearness comprehensible; 
which in every stone, every bough, every cloud, and every 
wave is multiplied around us, for ever presented, and for 
ever exhaustless. And hence in art, every space or touch in 
which we can see everything, or in which we can see nothing, 
is false. Nothing can be true which is either complete or 
vacant; every touch is false which does not suggest more 
than it represents, and every space is false which represents 
nothing. 

Now, I would not wish for any more illustrative or 
marked examples of the total contradiction of these two 
great principles, than the landscape works of the old masters, 
taken as a body; the Dutch masters furnishing the cases of 
seeing everything, and the Italians of seeing nothing. The 
rule with both is indeed the same, differently applied — "You 
shall see the bricks in the wall, and be able to count them, 
or you shall see nothing but a dead flat:" but the Dutch 
give you the bricks, and the Italians the flat. Nature's rule 
being the precise reverse — "You shall never be able to count 
the bricks, but you shall never see a dead space." 

Take, for instance, the street in the centre of the really 
great landscape of Poussin (great in feeling at least) marked 
260 in the Dulwich Gallery.* The houses are dead square 
masses with a light side and a dark side, and black touches 
* A Roman Road, in the style of Nicolas Poussin. 



OF TRUTH OF SPACE 29 

for windows. There is no suggestion of anything in any of 
the spaces; the light wall is dead grey, the dark wall dead 
grey, and the windows dead black. How differently would 
nature have treated us! She would have let us see the Indian 
corn hanging on the walls, and the image of the Virgin at 
the angles, and the sharp, broken, broad shadows of the tiled 
eaves, and the deep-ribbed tiles with the doves upon them, 
and the carved Roman capital built into the wall, and the 
white and blue stripes of the mattresses stuffed out of the 
windows, and the flapping corners of the mat blinds. All 
would have been there; not as such, not like the corn, or 
blinds or tiles, not to be comprehended or understood, but 
a confusion of yellow and black spots and strokes, carried 
far too fine for the eye to follow, microscopic in its minute- 
ness, and filling every atom and part of space with mystery, 
out of which would have arranged itself the general impres- 
sion of truth and life. 

Again, take the distant city on the right bank of the river 
in Claude's Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, in the National 
Gallery. I have seen many cities in my life, and drawn not a 
few; and I have seen many fortifications, fancy ones in- 
cluded, which frequently supply us with very few ideas 
indeed, especially in matters of proportion; but I do not re- 
member ever having met with either a city or a fortress 
entirely composed of round towers of various heights and 
sizes, all facsimiles of each other, and absolutely agreeing 
in the number of battlements. I have, indeed, some faint 
recollection of having delineated such a one in the first page 
of a spelling book when I was four years old; but, somehow 
or other, the dignity and perfection of the ideal were not 
appreciated, and the volume was not considered to be in- 
creased in value by the frontispiece. Without, however, ven- 
turing to doubt the entire sublimity of the same ideal as it 
occurs in Claude, let us consider how nature, if she had 
been fortunate enough to originate so perfect a conception, 
would have managed it in its details. Claude has permitted 
us to see every battlement, and the first impulse we feel 



30 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

upon looking at the picture is to count how many there are. 
Nature would have given us a peculiar confused roughness 
of the upper lines, a multitude of intersections and spots, 
which we should have known from experience was indica- 
tive of battlements, but which we might as well have thought 
of creating as of counting. Claude has given you the walls 
below in one dead void of uniform grey. There is nothing 
to be seen, or felt, or guessed at in it; it is grey paint or grey 
shade, whichever you may choose to call it, but it is nothing 
more. Nature would have let you see, nay, would have com- 
pelled you to see, thousands of spots and lines, not one to 
be absolutely understood or accounted for, but yet all char- 
acteristic and different from each other; breaking lights on 
shattered stones, vague shadows from waving vegetation, 
irregular stains of time and weather, mouldering hollows, 
sparkling casements; all would have been there; none in- 
deed, seen as such, none comprehensible or like themselves, 
but all visible; little shadows and sparkles, and scratches, 
making that whole space of colour a transparent, palpitat- 
ing, various infinity. . . . 

Now it is, indeed, impossible for the painter to follow all 
this; he cannot come up to the same degree and order of in- 
finity, but he can give us a lesser kind of infinity. He has not 
one thousandth part of the space to occupy which nature 
has; but he can, at least, leave no part of that space vacant 
and unprofitable. If nature carries out her minutiae over 
miles, he has no excuse for generalizing in inches. And if 
he will only give us all he can, if he will give us a fulness 
as complete and as mysterious as nature's, we will pardon 
him for its being the fulness of a cup instead of an 
ocean. . . . 

I am somewhat anticipating my subject here, because I 
can scarcely help answering the objections which I know 
must arise in the minds of most readers, especially of those 
who are partially artistical, respecting "generalization," 
"breadth," "effect," etc. It were to be wished that our writers 
on art would not dwell so frequently on the necessity of 



OF TRUTH OF SPACE 31 

breadth, without explaining what it means; and that we had 
more constant reference made to the principle which I can 
only remember having seen once clearly explained and in- 
sisted on, that breadth is not vacancy. Generalization is 
unity, not destruction of parts; and composition is not an- 
nihilation, but arrangement of materials. The breadth 
which unites the truths of nature with her harmonies is 
meritorious and beautiful; but the breadth which annihi- 
lates those truths by the million is not painting nature, but 
painting over her. And so the masses which result from right 
concords and relations of details are sublime and impressive; 
but the masses which result from the eclipse of details are 
contemptible and painful. And we shall show . . . that dis- 
tances like those of Poussin are mere meaningless tricks of 
clever execution, which, when once discovered, the artist 
may repeat over and over again, with mechanical content- 
ment and perfect satisfaction, both to himself and to his 
superficial admirers, with no more exertion of intellect nor 
awakening of feeling than any tradesman has in multiplying 
some ornamental pattern of furniture. . . . 

And now, take up one of Turner's distances, it matters 
not which or of what kind, drawing or painting, small or 
great, done thirty years ago or for last year's Academy, as 
you like; say that of the Mercury and Argus; and look if 
every fact which I have just been pointing out in nature be 
not carried out in it. Abundant beyond the power of the 
eye to embrace or follow, vast and various beyond the power 
of the mind to comprehend, there is yet not one atom in its 
whole extent and mass which does not suggest more than it 
represents; nor does it suggest vaguely, but in such a manner 
as to prove that the conception of each individual inch of 
that distance is absolutely clear and complete in the master's 
mind, a separate picture fully worked out: but yet, clearly 
and fully as the idea is formed, just so much of it is given, 
and no more, as nature would have allowed us to feel or see; 
just so much as would enable a spectator of experience and 
knowledge to understand almost every minute fragment of 



32 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

separate detail, but appears, to the unpractised and careless 
eye, just what a distance of nature's own would appear, an 
unintelligible mass. Not one line out of the millions there 
is without meaning, yet there is not one which is not affected 
and disguised by the dazzle and indecision of distance. No 
form is made out, and yet no form is unknown. 

[Vol. I, Part 2, Sec. 2, Chap. 5] 

Of Water, as Painted by Turner 

I believe it is a result of the experience of all artists, that 
it is the easiest thing in the world to give a certain degree 
of depth and transparency to water; but that it is next to 
impossible, to give a full impression of surface. If no reflec- 
tion be given, a ripple being supposed, the water looks like 
lead: if reflection be given, it, in nine cases out of ten, looks 
morbidly clear and deep, so that we always go down into it, 
even when the artist most wishes us to glide over it. Now, 
this difficulty arises from the very same circumstance which 
occasions the frequent failure in effect of the best-drawn 
foregrounds . . . the change, namely, of focus necessary in 
the eye in order to receive rays of light coming from differ- 
ent distances. Go to the edge of a pond in a perfectly calm 
day, at some place where there is duckweed floating on the 
surface, not thick, but a leaf here and there. Now, you may 
either see in the water the reflection of the sky, or you may 
see the duckweed; but you cannot, by any effort, see both 
together. . . . 

Hence it appears, that whenever we see plain reflections 
of comparatively distant objects, in near water, we cannot 
possibly see the surface, and vice versa; so that when in a 
painting we give the reflections with the same clearness with 
which they are visible in nature, we presuppose the effort of 
the eye to look under the surface, and, of course, destroy 
the surface, and induce an effect of clearness which, per- 
haps, the artist has not particularly wished to attain, but 



i 



OF WATER, AS PAINTED BY TURNER 33 

which he has found himself forced into, by his reflections, in 
spite of himself. And the reason of this effect of clearness 
appearing preternatural is, that people are not in the habit 
of looking at water with the distant focus adapted to the 
reflections, unless by particular effort. We invariably, under 
ordinary circumstances, use the surface focus; and, in con- 
sequence, receive nothing more than a vague and confused 
impression of the reflected colours and lines. ... If we take 
such a piece of water as that in the foreground of Turner's 
Chateau of Prince Albert, the first impression from it is, 
"What a wide surface!" We glide over it a quarter of a mile 
into the picture before we know where we are, and yet the 
water is as calm and crystalline as a mirror; but we are not 
allowed to tumble into it, and gasp for breath as we go 
down, we are kept upon the surface, though that surface is 
flashing and radiant with every hue of cloud, and sun, and 
sky, and foliage. But the secret is in the drawing of these 
reflections. We cannot tell, when we look at them and for 
them, what they mean. They have all character, and are 
evidently reflections of something definite and determined; 
but yet they are all uncertain and inexplicable; playing 
colour and palpitating shade, which, though we recognize 
them in an instant for images of something, and feel that 
the water is bright, and lovely, and calm, we cannot pene- 
trate nor interpret; we are not allowed to go down to them, 
and we repose, as we should in nature, upon the lustre of 
the level surface. It is in this power of saying everything, 
and yet saying nothing too plainly, that the perfection of 
art here, as in all other cases, consists. . . . 

Be it next observed, that the reflection of all near objects 
is not an exact copy of the parts of them which we see above 
the water, but a totally different view and arrangement of 
them, that which we should get if we were looking at them 
from beneath. Hence we see the dark sides of leaves hanging 
over a stream, in their reflection, though we see the light 
sides above; and all objects and groups of objects are thus 
seen in the reflection under different lights, and in different 



34 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

positions with respect to each other, from those which they 
assume above; some which we see on the bank being en- 
tirely lost in their reflection, and others which we cannot 
see on the bank brought into view. Hence nature contrives 
never to repeat herself, and the surface of water is not a 
mockery, but a new view of what is above it. And this dif- 
ference in what is represented, as well as the obscurity of 
the representation, is one of the chief sources by which the 
sensation of surface is kept up in the reality. The reflection 
is not so remarkable, it does not attract the eye in the same 
degree when it is entirely different from the images above, 
as when it mocks them and repeats them, and we feel that 
the space and surface have colour and character of their 
own, and that the bank is one thing and the water another. 
It is by not making this change manifest, and giving under- 
neath a mere duplicate of what is seen above, that artists 
are apt to destroy the essence and substance of water, and to 
drop us through it. 

Now one instance will be sufficient to show the exquisite 
care of Turner in this respect. On the left-hand side of his 
Nottingham, the water (a smooth canal) is terminated by a 
bank fenced up with wood, on which, just at the edge of the 
water, stands a white sign-post. A quarter of a mile back, 
the hill on which Nottingham Castle stands rises steeply 
nearly to the top of the picture. The upper part of this hill 
is in bright golden light, and the lower in very deep grey 
shadow, against which the white board of the sign-post is 
seen entirely in light relief, though, being turned from the 
light, it is itself in delicate middle tint, illumined only on 
the edge. But the image of all this in the canal is very dif- 
ferent. First, we have the reflection of the piles of the bank 
sharp and clear, but under this we have not what we see 
above it, the dark base of the hill (for this being a quarter 
of a mile back, we could not see it over the fence if we were 
looking from below), but the golden summit of the hill, the 
shadow of the under part having no record nor place in the 
reflection. Now this summit, being very distant, cannot be 



OF WATER, AS PAINTED BY TURNER 35 

seen clearly by the eye while its focus is adapted to the sur- 
face of the water, and accordingly its reflection is entirely 
vague and confused; you cannot tell what it is meant for, 
it is mere playing golden light. But the sign-post, being on 
the bank close to us, will be reflected clearly, and accord- 
ingly its distinct image is seen in the midst of this confusion; 
relieved, however, not now against the dark base, but against 
the illumined summit of the hill, and appearing therefore, 
instead of a white space thrown out from the blue shade, a 
dark grey space thrown out from golden light. I do not 
know that any more magnificent example could be given of 
concentrated knowledge, or of the daring statement of most 
difficult truth. For who but this consummate artist would 
have had courage, even if he had perceived the laws which 
required it, to undertake, in a single small space of water, 
the painting of an entirely new picture, with all its tones 
and arrangements altered, — what was made above bright 
by opposition to blue, being underneath made cool and dark 
by opposition to gold; or would have dared to contradict so 
boldly the ordinary expectation of the uncultivated eye, to 
find in the reflection a mockery of the reality? But the re- 
ward is immediate, for not only is the change most grateful 
to the eye, and most exquisite as composition, but the sur- 
face of the water in consequence of it is felt to be as spacious 
as it is clear, and the eye rests not on the inverted image of 
the material objects, but on the element which receives 
them. . . . 

It will be remembered that it was said above, that Turner 
was the only painter who had ever represented the surface 
of calm or the force of agitated water. He obtains this ex- 
pression of force in falling or running water by fearless and 
full rendering of its forms. He never loses himself and his 
subject in the splash of the fall, his presence of mind never 
fails as he goes down; he does not blind us with the spray, 
or veil the countenance of his fall with its own drapery. A 
little crumbling white, or lightly rubbed paper, will soon 



36 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

give the effect of indiscriminate foam; but nature gives more 
than foam, she shows beneath it, and through it, a peculiar 
character of exquisitely studied form bestowed on every 
wave and line of fall; and it is this variety of definite char- 
acter which Turner always aims at, rejecting, as much as 
possible, everything that conceals or overwhelms it. Thus, 
in the Upper Fall of the Tees, though the whole basin of 
the fall is blue and dim with the rising vapour, yet the atten- 
tion of the spectator is chiefly directed to the xoncentric 
zones and delicate curves of the falling water itself; and it 
is impossible to express with what exquisite accuracy these 
are given. They are the characteristic of a powerful stream 
descending without impediment or break, but from a nar- 
row channel, so as to expand as it falls. They are the con- 
stant form which such a stream assumes as it descends; and 
yet I think it would be difficult to point to another instance 
of their being rendered in art. You will find nothing in the 
waterfalls even of our best painters, but springing lines of 
parabolic descent, and splashing shapeless foam; and, in con- 
sequence, though they may make you understand the swift- 
ness of the water, they never let you feel the weight of it; 
the stream in their hands looks active, not supine, as if it 
leaped, not as if it fell. Now water will leap a little way, it 
will leap down a weir or over a stone, but it tumbles over a 
high fall like this; and it is when we have lost the parabolic 
line, and arrived at the catenary, when we have lost the 
spring of the fall, and arrived at the plunge of it, that we 
begin really to feel its weight and wildness. Where water 
takes its first leap from the top, it is cool, and collected, and 
uninteresting, and mathematical; but it is when it finds that 
it has got into a scrape, and has farther to go than it thought, 
that its character comes out: it is then that it begins to 
writhe, and twist, and sweep out, zone after zone, in wilder 
stretching as it falls; and to send down the rocket-like, lance- 
pointed, whizzing shafts at its sides, sounding for the bot- 
tom. And it is this prostration, this hopeless abandonment 
of its ponderous power to the air, which is always peculiarly 



OF WATER, AS PAINTED BY TURNER 37 

expressed by Turner, and especially in the case before us; 
while our other artists, keeping to the parabolic line, where 
they do not lose themselves in smoke and foam, make their 
cataract look muscular and wiry, and may consider them- 
selves fortunate if they can keep it from stopping. . . . 

It is not, however, from the shore that Turner usually 
studies his sea. Seen from the land, the curl of the breakers, 
even in nature, is somewhat uniform and monotonous; the 
size of the waves out at sea is uncomprehended; and those 
nearer the eye seem to succeed and resemble each other, to 
move slowly to the beach, and to break in the same lines 
and forms. 

Afloat even twenty yards from the shore, we receive a 
totally different impression. Every wave around us appears 
vast, every one different from all the rest; and the breakers 
present, now that we see them with their backs towards us, 
the grand, extended, and varied lines of long curvature 
which are peculiarly expressive both of velocity and power. 
Recklessness, before unfelt, is manifested in the mad, per- 
petual, changeful, undirected motion, not of wave after 
wave, as it appears from the shore, but of the very same 
water rising and falling. Of waves that successively approach 
and break, each appears to the mind a separate individual, 
whose part being performed, it perishes, and is succeeded 
by another; and there is nothing in this to impress us with 
the idea of restlessness, any more than in any successive and 
continuous functions of life and death. But it is when we 
perceive that it is no succession of wave, but the same water, 
constantly rising, and crashing, and recoiling, and rolling 
in again in new forms and with fresh fury, that we perceive 
the perturbed spirit, and feel the intensity of its unwearied 
rage. The sensation of power is also trebled; for not only is 
the vastness of apparent size much increased, but the whole 
action is different; it is not a passive wave, rolling sleepily 
forward until it tumbles heavily, prostrated upon the beach; 
but a sweeping exertion of tremendous and living strength, 



38 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

which does not now appear to fall, but to burst upon the 
shore; which never perishes but recoils and recovers. 

Aiming at these grand characters of the sea, Turner al- 
most always places the spectator, not on the shore, but 
twenty or thirty yards from it, beyond the first range of the 
breakers, as in the Land's End, Fowey, Dunbar, and Lau- 
gharne. The latter . . . gives the surge and weight of the 
ocean in a gale, on a comparatively level shore; but the 
Land's End, the entire disorder of the surges when every 
one of them, divided and entangled among promontories 
as it rolls in, and beaten back part by part from walls of 
rock on this side and that side, recoils like the defeated divi- 
sion of a great army, throwing all behind it into disorder, 
breaking up the succeeding waves into vertical ridges, which 
in their turn, yet more totally shattered upon the shore, 
retire in more helpless confusion; until the whole surface 
of the sea becomes one dizzy whirl of rushing, writhing, 
tortured, undirected rage, bounding, and crashing, and coil- 
ing in an anarchy of enormous power; subdivided into 
myriads of waves, of which every one is not, be it remem- 
bered, a separate surge, but part and portion of a vast one, 
actuated by internal power, and giving in every direction 
the mighty undulation of impetuous line which glides over 
the rocks and writhes in the wind, overwhelming the one, 
and piercing the other with the form, fury, and swiftness of 
a sheet of lambent fire. And throughout the rendering of 
all this there is not one false curve given, not one which is 
not the perfect expression of visible motion; and the forms 
of the infinite sea are drawn throughout with that utmost 
mastery of art which, through the deepest study of every 
line, makes every line appear the wildest child of chance, 
while yet each is in itself a subject and a picture different 
from all else around. . . . 

Few people, comparatively, have ever seen the effect on 
the sea of a powerful gale continued without intermission 
for three or four days and nights; and to those who have 



OF WATER, AS PAINTED BY TURNER 39 

not, I believe it must be unimaginable, not from the mere 
force or size of surge, but from the complete annihilation of 
the limit between sea and air. The water from its pro- 
longed agitation is beaten, not into mere creaming foam, but 
into masses of accumulated yeast,* which hang in ropes and 
wreaths from wave to wave, and, where one curls over to 
break, form a festoon like a drapery from its edge; these are 
taken up by the wind, not in dissipating dust, but bodily, in 
writhing, hanging, coiling masses, which make the air white 
and thick as with snow, only the flakes are a foot or two long 
each: the surges themselves are full of foam in their very 
bodies, underneath, making them white all through, as the 
water is under a great cataract; and their masses, being thus 
half water and half air, are torn to pieces by the wind when- 
ever they rise, and carried away in roaring smoke, which 
chokes and strangles like actual water. Add to this, that 
when the air has been exhausted of its moisture by long 
rain, the spray of the sea is caught by it . . . and covers its 
surface not merely with the smoke of finely divided water, 
but with boiling mist; imagine also the low rain-clouds 
brought down to the very level of the sea, as I have often 
seen them; whirling and flying in rags and fragments from 
wave to wave; and finally, conceive the surges themselves in 
their utmost pitch of power, velocity, vastness, and madness, 
lifting themselves in precipices and peaks, furrowed with 
their whirl of ascent, through all this chaos; and you will 
Understand that there is indeed no distinction left between 
the sea and air; that no object, nor horizon, nor any land- 

* The "yesty waves" of Shakspeare have made the likeness familiar, 
and probably most readers take the expression as merely equivalent to 
"foamy;" but Shakspeare knew better. Sea-foam does not, under ordi- 
nary circumstances, last a moment after it is formed, but disappears, 
as above described, in a mere white film. But the foam of a prolonged 
tempest is altogether different; it is "whipped" foam, thick, permanent, 
and, in a foul or discoloured sea, very ugly, especially in the way it 
hangs about the tops of the waves, and gathers into clotted concretions 
before the driving wind. The sea looks truly working or fermenting. 
[Ruskin's note.] 



10 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

mark or natural evidence of position is left; that the heaven 
is all spray, and the ocean all cloud, and that you can see 
no farther in any direction than you could see through a 
cataract. Suppose the effect of the first sunbeam sent from 
above to show this annihilation to itself, and you have the 
sea picture of the Academy, 1842, the Snowstorm, one of 
the very grandest statements of sea-motion, mist, and light, 
that has ever been put on canvas, even by Turner. Of course 
it was not understood; his finest works never are: but there 
was some apology for the public's not comprehending this, 
for few people have had the opportunity of seeing the sea 
at such a time, and when they have, cannot face it.* To 
hold by a mast or a rock, and watch it, is a prolonged en- 
durance of drowning which few people have courage to go 
through. To those who have, it is one of the noblest lessons 
of nature. 

But, I think, the noblest sea that Turner has ever painted, 
and, if so, the noblest certainly ever painted by man, is that 
of the Slave Ship, the chief Academy picture of the Exhibi- 
tion of 1840. It is a sunset on the Atlantic, after prolonged 
storm; but the storm is partially lulled, and the torn and 
streaming rain-clouds are moving in scarlet lines to lose 
themselves in the hollow of the night. The whole surface of 
sea included in the picture is divided into two ridges of 
enormous swell, not high, nor local, but a low broad heav- 
ing of the whole ocean, like the lifting of its bosom by 
deep-drawn breath after the torture of the storm. Between 
these two ridges the fire of the sunset falls along the trough 
of the sea, dyeing it with an awful but glorious light, the 
intense and lurid splendour which burns like gold, and 
bathes like blood. Along this fiery path and valley, the 
tossing waves by which the swell of the sea is restlessly di- 
vided, lift themselves in dark, indefinite, fantastic forms, 

* So that he might better see what he later painted, Turner had him- 
self lashed to the mast of the Ariel and for four hours rode out a gale 
at sea. But the critics, blind to the radical fidelity of his vision, dis- 
missed the Snowstorm: Steamboat Making Signals as a "mass of soap- 
suds and whitewash." 



OF WATER, AS PAINTED BY TURNER 41 

each casting a faint and ghastly shadow behind it along the 
illumined foam. They do not rise everywhere, but three or 
four together in wild groups, fitfully and furiously, as the 
under strength of the swell compels or permits them; leaving 
between them treacherous spaces of level and whirling wa- 
ter, now lighted with green and lamp-like fire, now flashing 
back the gold of the declining sun, now fearfully dyed from 
above with the undistinguishable images of the burning 
clouds, which fall upon them in flakes of crimson and scarlet, 
and give to the reckless waves the added motion of their 
own fiery flying. Purple and blue, the lurid shadows of the 
hollow breakers are cast upon the mist of night, which gath- 
ers cold and low, advancing like the shadow of death upon 
the guilty* ship as it labours amidst the lightning of the 
sea, its thin masts written upon the sky in lines of blood, 
girded with condemnation in that fearful hue which signs 
the sky with horror, and mixes its flaming flood with the 
sunlight, and, cast far along the desolate heave of the sepul- 
chral waves, incarnadines the multitudinous sea. 

I believe, if I were reduced to rest Turner's immortality 
upon any single work, I should choose this. Its daring con- 
ception, ideal in the highest sense of the word, is based on 
the purest truth, and wrought out with the concentrated 
knowledge of a life; its colour is absolutely perfect, not one 
false or morbid hue in any part or line, and so modulated 
that every square inch of canvas is a perfect composition; its 
drawing as accurate as fearless; the ship buoyant, bending, 
and full of motion; its tones as true as they are wonderful; 
and the whole picture dedicated to the most sublime of 
subjects and impressions (completing thus the perfect sys- 
tem of all truth, which we have shown to be formed by 
Turner's works) — the power, majesty, and deathfulness of 
the open, deep, illimitable sea. 

[Vol. I, Part 2, Sec. 5, Chap. 3] 

* She is a slaver, throwing her slaves overboard. The near sea is en- 
cumbered with corpses. [Ruskin's note.] 



42 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Of the Received 
Opinions Touching 
the "Grand Style" 

In taking up the clue of an inquiry, now intermitted for 
nearly ten years, it may be well to do as a traveller would, 
who had to recommence an interrupted journey in a guide- 
less country; and, ascending, as it were, some little hill 
beside our road, note how far we have already advanced, 
and what pleasantest ways we may choose for farther prog- 
ress. 

I endeavoured, in the beginning of the first volume, to 
divide the sources of pleasure open to us in Art into certain 
groups, which might conveniently be studied in succession. 
After some preliminary discussion, it was concluded that 
these groups were, in the main, three; consisting, first, of 
the pleasures taken in perceiving simple resemblance to 
Nature (Ideas of Truth); secondly, of the pleasures taken in 
the beauty of the things chosen to be painted (Ideas of 
Beauty); and, lastly, of pleasures taken in the meanings 
and relations of these things (Ideas of Relation). 

The first volume, treating of the Ideas of Truth, was 
chiefly occupied with an inquiry into the various success 
with which different artists had represented the facts of 
Nature, — an inquiry necessarily conducted very imperfectly, 
owing to the want of pictorial illustration. 

The second volume merely opened the inquiry into the 
nature of ideas of Beauty and Relation, by analysing (as 
far as I was able to do so) the two faculties of the human 
mind which mainly seized such ideas; namely, the contem- 
plative and imaginative faculties. 

It remains for us to examine the various success of artists, 
especially of the great landscape-painter whose works have 
been throughout our principal subject, in addressing these 
faculties of the human mind, and to consider who among 



THE "GRAND STYLE" 43 

them has conveyed the noblest ideas of beauty, and touched 
the deepest sources of thought. . . . 

I have said that the art is greatest which includes the 
greatest ideas; but I have not endeavoured to define the 
nature of this greatness in the ideas themselves. We speak 
of great truths, of great beauties, great thoughts. What is it 
which makes one truth greater than another, one thought 
greater than another? This question is, I repeat, of peculiar 
importance at the present time; for, during a period now of 
some hundred and fifty years, all writers on Art who have 
pretended to eminence, have insisted much on a supposed 
distinction between what they call the Great and the Low 
Schools; using the terms "High Art," "Great or Ideal Style," 
and other such, as descriptive of a certain noble manner of 
painting, which it was desirable that all students of Art 
should be early led to reverence and adopt; and character- 
ising as "vulgar," or "low," or "realist," another manner of 
painting and conceiving, which it was equally necessary that 
all students should be taught to avoid. 

But lately this established teaching, never very intelligible, 
has been gravely called in question. The advocates and self- 
supposed practisers of "High Art" are beginning to be 
looked upon with doubt, and their peculiar phraseology to 
be treated with even a certain degree of ridicule. And other 
forms of Art are partly developed among us, which do not 
pretend to be high, but rather to be strong, healthy, and 
humble. This matter of "highness" in Art, therefore, de- 
serves our most careful consideration. Has it been, or is it, 
a true highness, a true princeliness, or only a show of it, 
consisting in courtly manners and robes of state? Is it rocky 
height or cloudy height, adamant or vapour, on which the 
sun of praise so long has risen and set? It will be well at 
once to consider this. 

And first, let us get, as quickly as may be, at the exact 
meaning with which the advocates of "High Art" use that 
somewhat obscure and figurative term. 



44 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

I do not know that the principles in question are any- 
where more distinctly expressed than in two papers in the 
Idler, written by Sir Joshua Reynolds, of course under the 
immediate sanction of Johnson; and which may thus be 
considered as the utterance of the views then held upon the 
subject by the artists of chief skill, and critics of most sense, 
arranged in a form so brief and clear, as to admit of their 
being brought before the public for a morning's entertain- 
ment. I cannot, therefore, it seems to me, do better than 
quote these two letters, or at least the important parts of 
them, examining the exact meaning of each passage as it 
occurs. There are, in all, in the Idler three letters on paint- 
ing, Nos. 76, 79, and 82; of these, the first is directed only 
against the impertinences of pretended connoisseurs, and is 
as notable for its faithfulness, as for its wit, in the descrip- 
tion of the several modes of criticism in an artificial and 
ignorant state of society: it is only, therefore, in the two last 
papers that we find the expression of the doctrines which it 
is our business to examine. 

No. 79 (Saturday, Oct. 20th, 1759) begins, after a short 
preamble, with the following passage: — 

"Amongst the Painters, and the writers on Painting, there 
is one maxim universally admitted and continually incul- 
cated. Imitate nature is the invariable rule; but I know 
none who have explained in what manner this rule is to be 
understood; the consequence of which is, that every one 
takes it in the most obvious sense — that objects are repre- 
sented naturally, when they have such relief that they seem 
real. It may appear strange, perhaps, to hear this sense of 
the rule disputed; but it must be considered, that, if the 
excellency of a Painter consisted only in this kind of imita- 
tion, Painting must lose its rank, and be no longer con- 
sidered as a liberal art, and sister to Poetry: this imitation 
being merely mechanical, in which the slowest intellect is 
always sure to succeed best; for the Painter of genius cannot 
stoop to drudgery, in which the understanding has no part; 



THE "GRAND STYLE" 45 

and what pretence has the Art to claim kindred with 
Poetry, but by its power over the imagination? To this power 
the Painter of genius directs him; in this sense he studies 
Nature, and often arrives at his end, even by being unnat- 
ural in the confined sense of the word. 

"The grand style of Painting requires this minute atten- 
tion to be carefully avoided, and must be kept as separate 
from it as the style of Poetry from that of History. (Poetical 
ornaments destroy that air of truth and plainness which 
ought to characterise History; but the very being of Poetry 
consists in departing from this plain narrative, and adopting 
every ornament that will warm the imagination.) To de- 
sire to see the excellences of each style united — to mingle 
the Dutch with the Italian school, is to join contrarieties 
which cannot subsist together, and which destroy the efficacy 
of each other." 

We find, first, from this interesting passage, that the writer 
considers the Dutch and Italian masters as severally repre- 
sentative of the low and high schools; next, that he con- 
siders the Dutch painters as excelling in a mechanical 
imitation, "in which the slowest intellect is always sure to 
succeed best;" and, thirdly, that he considers the Italian 
painters as excelling in a style which corresponds to that of 
imaginative poetry in literature, and which has an exclusive 
right to be called the grand style. . . . 

We observe, however, farther, that the imitation which 
Reynolds supposes to be characteristic of the Dutch School 
is that which gives to objects such relief that they seem real, 
and that he then speaks of this art of realistic imitation as 
corresponding to history in literature. 

Reynolds, therefore, seems to class these dull works of the 
Dutch School under a general head, to which they are not 
commonly referred — that of Historical painting; while he 
speaks of the works of the Italian School not as historical, 
but as poetical painting. His next sentence will farther man- 
ifest his meaning. 



46 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

"The Italian attends only to the invariable, the great and 
general ideas which are fixed and inherent in universal Na- 
ture; the Dutch, on the contrary, to literal truth, and a 
minute exactness in the detail, as I may say, of Nature modi- 
fied by accident. The attention to these petty peculiarities is 
the very cause of this naturalness so much admired in the 
Dutch pictures, which, if we suppose it to be a beauty, is 
certainly of a lower order, which ought to give place to a 
beauty of a superior kind, since one cannot be obtained but 
by departing from the other. 

"If my opinion were asked concerning the works of 
Michael Angelo, whether they would receive any advantage 
from possessing this mechanical merit, I should not scruple 
to say, they would not only receive no advantage, but would 
lose, in a great measure, the effect which they now have on 
every mind susceptible of great and noble ideas. His works 
may be said to be all genius and soul; and why should they 
be loaded with heavy matter, which can only counteract his 
purpose by retarding the progress of the imagination?" 

Examining carefully this and the preceding passage, we 
find the author's unmistakable meaning to be, that Dutch 
painting is history; attending to literal truth and "minute 
exactness in the details of nature modified by accident." 
That Italian painting is poetry, attending only to the invari- 
able; and that works which attend only to the invariable are 
full of genius and soul; but that literal truth and exact 
detail are "heavy matter which retards the progress of the 
imagination." 

This being then indisputably what Reynolds means to 
tell us, let us think a little whether he is in all respects right. 
And first, as he compares his two kinds of painting to history 
and poetry, let us see how poetry and history themselves 
differ, in their use of variable and invariable details. I am 
writing at a window which commands a view of the head of 
the Lake of Geneva; and as I look up from my paper, to 



THE "GRAND STYLE" 47 

consider this point, I see, beyond it, a blue breadth of softly 
moving water, and the outline of the mountains above 
Chillon, bathed in morning mist. The first verses which 
naturally come into my mind are — 

"A thousand feet in depth below 
The massy waters meet and flow; 
So far the fathom line was sent 
From Chillon's snow-white battlement!'* 

Let us see in what manner this poetical statement is dis- 
tinguished from a historical one. 

It is distinguished from a truly historical statement, first, 
in being simply false. The water under the Castle of Chillon 
is not a thousand feet deep, nor anything like it. Herein, 
certainly, these lines fulfil Reynolds's first requirement in 
poetry, "that it should be inattentive to literal truth and 
minute exactness in detail." In order, however, to make 
our comparison more closely in other points, let us assume 
that what is stated is indeed a fact, and that it was to be 
recorded, first historically, and then poetically. 

Historically stating it, then, we should say: "The lake 
was sounded from the walls of the Castle of Chillon, and 
found to be a thousand feet deep." 

Now, if Reynolds be right in his idea of the difference 
between history and poetry, we shall find that Byron leaves 
out of this statement certain unnecessary details, and retains 
only the invariable, — that is to say, the points which the 
Lake of Geneva and Castle of Chillon have in common with 
all other lakes and castles. 

Let us hear, therefore. 

"A thousand feet in depth below." 

* Ruskin generally quoted from memory, and his memory was phe- 
nomenally accurate, ranging at will over the many literatures at his 
command. Occasionally, as here, in quoting from Byron's "The 
Prisoner of Chillon," he introduced minor verbal changes which I have 
let pass uncorrected. 



48 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

"Below?" Here is, at all events, a word added (instead of 
anything being taken away); invariable, certainly in the case 
of lakes, but not absolutely necessary. 

"The massy waters meet and flow." 

"Massy!" why massy? Because deep water is heavy. The 
word is a good word, but it is assuredly an added detail, and 
expresses a character, not which the Lake of Geneva has in 
common with all other lakes, but which it has in distinction 
from those which are narrow, or shallow. 

"Meet and flow." Why meet and flow? Partly to make up 
a rhyme; partly to tell us that the waters are forceful as well 
as massy, and changeful as well as deep. Observe, a farther 
addition of details, and of details more or less peculiar to 
the spot, or, according to Reynolds's definition, of "heavy 
matter, retarding the progress of the imagination." 

"So far the fathom line was sent." 

Why fathom line? All lines for sounding are not fathom 
lines. If the lake was ever sounded from Chillon, it was 
probably sounded in metres, not fathoms. This is an addi- 
tion of another particular detail, in which the only com- 
pliance with Reynolds's requirement is, that there is some 
chance of its being an inaccurate one. 

"From Chillon's snow-white battlement.** 

Why snow-white? Because castle battlements are not us- 
ually snow-white. This is another added detail, and a detail 
quite peculiar to Chillon, and therefore exactly the most 
striking word in the whole passage. 

"Battlement!" Why battlement? Because all walls have 
not battlements, and the addition of the term marks the 
castle to be not merely a prison, but a fortress. 

This is a curious result. Instead of finding, as we expected, 
the poetry distinguished from the history by the omission of 
details, we find it consists] entirely in the addition of de- 



THE "GRAND STYLE" 49 

tails; and instead of being characterised by regard only of 
the invariable, we find its whole power to consist in the 
clear expression of what is singular and particular! 

The reader may pursue the investigation for himself in 
other instances. He will find in every case that a poetical is 
distinguished from a merely historical statement, not by 
being more vague, but more specific; and it might, there- 
fore, at first appear that our author's comparison should be 
simply reversed, and that the Dutch School should be called 
poetical, and the Italian historical. But the term poetical 
does not appear very applicable to the generality of Dutch 
painting; and a little reflection will show us, that if the 
Italians represent only the invariable, they cannot be 
properly compared even to historians. For that which is 
incapable of change has no history, and records which state 
only the invariable need not be written, and could not be 
read. 

It is evident, therefore, that our author has entangled 
himself in some grave fallacy, by introducing this idea of 
invariableness as forming a distinction between poetical and 
historical art. What the fallacy is, we shall discover as we 
proceed; but as an invading army should not leave an un- 
taken fortress in its rear, we must not go on with our inquiry 
into the views of Reynolds until we have settled satisfac- 
torily the question already suggested to us, in what the es- 
sence of poetical treatment really consists. For though, as 
we have seen, it certainly involves the addition of specific 
details, it cannot be simply that addition which turns the 
history into poetry. For it is perfectly possible to add any 
number of details to a historical statement, and to make it 
more prosaic with every added word. As, for instance, "The 
lake was sounded out of a flat-bottomed boat, near the crab- 
tree at the corner of the kitchen-garden, and was found to 
be a thousand feet nine inches deep, with a muddy bottom." 
It thus appears that it is not the multiplication of details 
which constitutes poetry; nor their subtraction which con- 



50 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

stitutes history, but details themselves, or the method of 
using them, which invests them with poetical power or 
historical propriety. 

It seems to me, and may seem to the reader, strange that 
we should need to ask the question, "What is poetry?" Here 
is a word we have been using all our lives, and, I suppose, 
with a very distinct idea attached to it; and when I am now 
called upon to give a definition of this idea, I find myself at 
a pause. What is more singular, I do not at present recollect 
hearing the question often asked, though surely it is a very 
natural one; and I never recollect hearing it answered, or 
even attempted to be answered. In general, people shelter 
themselves under metaphors, and while we hear poetry de- 
scribed as an utterance of the soul, an effusion of Divinity, 
or voice of nature, or in other terms equally elevated and 
obscure, we never attain anything like a definite explana- 
tion of the character which actually distinguishes it from 
prose. 

I come, after some embarrassment, to the conclusion, that 
poetry is "the suggestion, by the imagination, of noble 
grounds for the noble emotions." I mean, by the noble emo- 
tions, those four principal sacred passions — Love, Venera- 
tion, Admiration, and Joy (this latter especially, if unself- 
ish); and their opposites — Hatred, Indignation (or Scorn), 
Horror, and Grief, — this last, when unselfish, becoming 
Compassion. These passions in their various combinations 
constitute what is called "poetical feeling," when they are 
felt on noble grounds, that is, on great and true grounds. 
Indignation, for instance, is a poetical feeling, if excited by 
serious injury; but it is not a poetical feeling if entertained 
on being cheated out of a small sum of money. It is very 
possible the manner of the cheat may have been such as to 
justify considerable indignation; but the feeling is never- 
theless not poetical unless the grounds of it be large as well 
as just. In like manner, energetic admiration may be excited 
in certain minds by a display of fireworks, or a street of 
handsome shops; but the feeling is not poetical, because the 



THE "GRAND STYLE" 51 

grounds of it are false, and therefore ignoble. There is in 
reality nothing to deserve admiration either in the firing of 
packets of gunpowder, or in the display of the stocks of 
warehouses. But admiration excited by the budding of a 
flower is a poetical feeling, because it is impossible that this 
manifestation of spiritual power and vital beauty can ever 
be enough admired. 

Farther, it is necessary to the existence of poetry that the 
grounds of these feelings should be furnished by the imagi- 
nation. Poetical feeling, that is to say, mere noble emotion, 
is not poetry. It is happily inherent in all human nature 
deserving the name, and is found often to be purest in the 
least sophisticated. But the power of assembling, by the help 
of the imagination, such images as will excite these feelings, 
is the power of the poet or literally of the "Maker." 

Now this power of exciting the emotions depends of 
course on the richness of the imagination, and on its choice 
of those images which, in combination, will be most effec- 
tive, or, for the particular work to be done, most fit. And it 
is altogether impossible for a writer not endowed with in- 
vention to conceive what tools a true poet will make use of, 
or in what way he will apply them, or what unexpected re- 
sults he will bring out by them; so that it is vain to say that 
the details of poetry ought to possess, or ever do possess, 
any definite character. Generally speaking, poetry runs into 
finer and more delicate details than prose; but the details 
are not poetical because they are more delicate, but because 
they are employed so as to bring out an affecting result. For 
instance, no one but a true poet would have thought of ex- 
citing our pity for a bereaved father by describing his way 
of locking the door of his house: 

"Perhaps to himself at that moment he said, 
'The key I must take, for my Ellen is dead/ 
But of this in my ears not a word did he speak; 
And he went to the chase with a tear on his cheek."* 

* The final stanza of Wordsworth's "The Childless Father." 



52 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

In like manner, in painting, it is altogether impossible to 
say beforehand what details a great painter may make po- 
etical by his use of them to excite noble emotions: and we 
shall, therefore, find presently that a painting is to be 
classed in the great or inferior schools, not according to the 
kind of details which it represents, but according to the uses 
for which it employs them. 

It is only farther to be noticed, that infinite confusion has 
been introduced into this subject by the careless and illogi- 
cal custom of opposing painting to poetry, instead of re- 
garding poetry as consisting in a noble use, whether of 
colours or words. Painting is properly to be opposed to 
speaking or writing, but not to poetry. Both painting and 
speaking are methods of expression. Poetry is the employ- 
ment of either for the noblest purposes. 

This question being thus far determined, we may proceed 
with our paper in the Idler. 

"It is very difficult to determine the exact degree of en- 
thusiasm that the arts of Painting and Poetry may admit. 
There may, perhaps, be too great an indulgence as well as 
too great a restraint of imagination; if the one produces 
incoherent monsters, the other produces what is full as bad, 
lifeless insipidity. An intimate knowledge of the passions, 
and good sense, but not common sense, must at last deter- 
mine its limits. It has been thought, and I believe with 
reason, that Michael Angelo sometimes transgressed those 
limits; and, I think, I have seen figures of him of which it 
was very difficult to determine whether they were in the 
highest degree sublime or extremely ridiculous. Such faults 
may be said to be the ebullitions of genius; but at least he 
had this merit, that he never was insipid; and whatever 
passion his works may excite, they will always escape con- 
tempt. 

"What I have had under consideration is the sublimest 
style, particularly that of Michael Angelo, the Homer of 
painting. Other kinds may admit of this naturalness, which 
of the lowest kind is the chief merit; but in painting, as in 



THE "GRAND STYLE" 53 
poetry, the highest style has the least of common nature." 

From this passage we gather three important indications 
of the supposed nature of the Great Style. That it is the 
work of men in a state of enthusiasm. That it is like the 
writing of Homer; and that it has as little as possible of 
"common nature" in it. 

First, it is produced by men in a state of enthusiasm. That 
is, by men who feel strongly and nobly; for we do not call a 
strong feeling of envy, jealousy, or ambition, enthusiasm. 
That is, therefore, by men who feel poetically. This much 
we may admit, I think, with perfect safety. Great art is 
produced by men who feel acutely and nobly; and it is in 
some sort an expression of this personal feeling. We can 
easily conceive that there may be a sufficiently marked dis- 
tinction between such art, and that which is produced by 
men who do not feel at all, but who reproduce, though ever 
so accurately, yet coldly, like human mirrors, the scenes 
which pass before their eyes. 

Secondly, Great Art is like the writing of Homer, and this 
chiefly because it has little of "common nature" in it. We 
are not clearly informed what is meant by common nature 
in this passage. Homer seems to describe a great deal of 
what is common: — cookery, for instance, very carefully in 
all its processes. I suppose the passage in the Iliad which, on 
the whole, has excited most admiration, is that which de- 
scribes a wife's sorrow at parting from her husband, and a 
child's fright at its father's helmet; and I hope, at least, the 
former feeling may be considered "common nature." But 
the true greatness of Homer's style is, doubtless, held by our 
author to consist in his imaginations of things not only un- 
common but impossible (such as spirits in brazen armour, 
or monsters with heads of men and bodies of beasts), and in 
his occasional delineations of the human character and form 
in their utmost, or heroic, strength and beauty. We gather 
then on the whole, that a painter in the Great Style must 
be enthusiastic, or full of emotion, and must paint the 
human form in its utmost strength and beauty, and perhaps 



54 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

certain impossible forms besides, liable by persons not in an 
equally enthusiastic state of mind to be looked upon as in 
some degree absurd. This I presume to be Reynolds's mean- 
ing, and to be all that he intends us to gather from his 
comparison of the Great Style with the writings of Homer. 
But if that comparison be a just one in all respects, surely 
two other corollaries ought to be drawn from it, namely, — 
first, that these Heroic or Impossible images are to be 
mingled with others very unheroic and very possible; and, 
secondly, that in the representation of the Heroic or Im- 
possible forms, the greatest care must be taken in finishing 
the details, so that a painter must not be satisfied with paint- 
ing well the countenance and the body of his hero, but 
ought to spend the greatest part of his time (as Homer the 
greatest number of verses) in elaborating the sculptured pat- 
tern on his shield. 

Let us, however, proceed with our paper. 

"One may very safely recommend a little more enthu- 
siasm to the modern Painters; too much is certainly not the 
vice of the present age. The Italians seem to have been con- 
tinually declining in this respect from the time of Michael 
Angelo to that of Carlo Maratti, and from thence to the 
very bathos of insipidity to which they are now sunk; so 
that there is no need of remarking, that where I mentioned 
the Italian painters in opposition to the Dutch, I mean not 
the moderns, but the heads of the old Roman and Bolo- 
gnian Schools; nor did I mean to include, in my idea of an 
Italian painter, the Venetian school, which may be said to 
be the Dutch part of the Italian genius. I have only to add a 
word of advice to the Painters, — that, however excellent 
they may be in painting naturally, they would not flatter 
themselves very much upon it; and to the Connoisseurs, that 
when they see a cat or a fiddle painted so finely, that, as the 
phrase is, it looks as if you could take it up, they would not 
for that reason immediately compare the Painter to Raffa- 
elle and Michael Angelo." 



OF THE NATURALIST IDEAL 55 

In this passage there are four points chiefly to be re- 
marked. The first, that in the year 1759 the Italian painters 
were, in our author's opinion, sunk in the very bathos of 
insipidity. The second, that the Venetian painters, i.e., 
Titian, Tintoret, and Veronese, are, in our author's opinion, 
to be classed with the Dutch; that is to say, are painters in a 
style "in which the slowest intellect is always sure to succeed 
best." Thirdly, that painting naturally is not a difficult 
thing, nor one on which a painter should pride himself. 
And, finally, that connoisseurs, seeing a cat or a fiddle suc- 
cessfully painted, ought not therefore immediately to com- 
pare the painter to Raphael or Michael Angelo. 

Yet Raphael painted fiddles very carefully in the fore- 
ground of his St. Cecilia, — so carefully, that they quite look 
as if they might be taken up. So carefully, that I never yet 
looked at the picture without wishing that somebody would 
take them up, and out of the way. And I am under a very 
strong persuasion that Raphael did not think painting 
"naturally" an easy thing. [Vol. Ill, Part 4, Chap. 1] 

Of the Naturalist Ideal 

We now enter on the consideration of that central and 
highest branch of ideal art which concerns itself simply with 
things as they are, and accepts, in all of them, alike the evil 
and the good. The question is, therefore, how the art which 
represents things simply as they are, can be called ideal at 
all. ... 

In Tintoret's Adoration of the Magi, the Madonna is not 
an enthroned queen, but a fair girl, full of simplicity and 
almost childish sweetness. To her are opposed (as Magi) two 
of the noblest and most thoughtful of the Venetian senators 
in extreme old age, — the utmost manly dignity, in its de- 
cline, being set beside the utmost feminine simplicity, in its 
dawn. The steep foreheads and refined features of the 
nobles are, again, opposed to the head of a negro servant, 



56 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

and of an Indian; both, however, noble of their kind. On 
the other side of the picture, the delicacy of the Madonna 
is farther enhanced by contrast with a largely made farm- 
servant, leaning on a basket. All these figures are in repose; 
outside, the troop of the attendants of the Magi is seen 
coming up at the gallop. 

I bring forward this picture, observe, not as an example 
of the ideal in conception of religious subject, but of the 
general ideal treatment of the human form; in which the 
peculiarity is, that the beauty of each figure is displayed to 
the utmost, while yet, taken separately, the Madonna is an 
unaltered portrait of a Venetian girl, the Magi are unaltered 
Venetian senators, and the figure with the basket, an un- 
altered market-woman of Mestre. 

And the greater the master of the ideal, the more per- 
fectly true in portraiture will his individual figures be al- 
ways found, the more subtle and bold his arts of harmony 
and contrast. This is a universal principle, common to all 
great art. Consider, in Shakspere, how Prince Henry is 
opposed to Falstaff, Falstaff to Shallow, Titania to Bottom, 
Cordelia to Regan, Imogen to Cloten, and so on; while all 
the meaner idealists disdain the naturalism, and are shocked 
at the contrasts. The fact is, a man who can see truth at all, 
sees it wholly, and neither desires nor dares to mutilate it. 

It is evident that within this faithful idealism, and as one 
branch of it only, will arrange itself the representation of 
the human form and mind in perfection, when this perfec- 
tion is rationally to be supposed or introduced, — that is to 
say, in the highest personages of the story. The careless habit 
of confining the term "ideal" to such representations, and 
not understanding the imperfect ones to be equally ideal in 
their place, has greatly added to the embarrassment and 
multiplied the errors of artists. Thersites is just as ideal as 
Achilles, and Alecto as Helen; and, what is more, all the 
nobleness of the beautiful ideal depends upon its being just 
as probable and natural as the ugly one, and having in 
itself, occasionally or partially, both faults and familiarities. 



OF THE NATURALIST IDEAL 57 

If the next painter who desires to illustrate the character of 
Homer's Achilles, would represent him cutting pork chops 
for Ulysses, he would enable the public to understand the 
Homeric ideal better than they have done for several cen- 
turies. For it is to be kept in mind that the naturalist ideal 
has always in it, to the full, the power expressed by those 
two words. It is naturalist, because studied from nature, and 
ideal, because it is mentally arranged in a certain manner. 
Achilles must be represented cutting pork chops, because 
that was one of the things which the nature of Achilles in- 
volved his doing: he could not be shown wholly as Achilles, 
if he were not shown doing that. But he shall do it at such 
time and place as Homer chooses. 

Now, therefore, observe the main conclusions which fol- 
low from these two conditions, attached always to art of 
this kind. First, it is to be taken straight from nature: it is to 
be the plain narration of something the painter or writer 
saw. Herein is the chief practical difference between the 
higher and lower artists; a difference which I feel more and 
more every day that I give to the study of art. All the great 
men see what they paint before they paint it, — see it in a 
perfectly passive manner, — cannot help seeing it if they 
would; whether in their mind's eye, or in bodily fact, does 
not matter; very often the mental vision is, I believe, in 
men of imagination, clearer than the bodily one; but vision 
it is, of one kind or another, — the whole scene, character, or 
incident passing before them as in second sight, whether 
they will or no, and requiring them to paint it as they see it; 
they not daring, under the might of its presence, to alter one 
jot or tittle of it as they write it down or paint it down; it 
being to them in its own kind and degree always a true 
vision or Apocalypse, and invariably accompanied in their 
hearts by a feeling correspondent to the words, — "Write 
the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are!* 

And the whole power, whether of painter or poet, to de- 
scribe rightly what we call an ideal thing, depends upon its 
being thus, to him, not an ideal, but a real thing. No man 



58 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

ever did or ever will work well, but either from actual sight 
or sight of faith; and all that we call ideal in Greek or any 
other art, because to us it is false and visionary, was, to the 
makers of it, true and existent. The heroes of Phidias are 
simply representations of such noble human persons as he 
every day saw, and the gods of Phidias simply representa- 
tions of such noble divine persons as he thoroughly believed 
to exist, and did in mental vision truly behold. Hence I said 
in the second preface to the Seven Lamps of Architecture: 
"All great art represents something that it sees or believes 
in; — nothing unseen or uncredited." 

And just because it is always something that it sees or be- 
lieves in, there is the peculiar character above noted, almost 
unmistakable, in all high and true ideals, of having been as it 
were studied from the life, and involving pieces of sudden 
familiarity, and close specific painting which never would 
have been admitted or even thought of, had not the painter 
drawn either from the bodily life or from the life of faith. 
For instance, Dante's centaur, Chiron, dividing his beard 
with his arrow before he can speak, is a thing that no mortal 
would ever have thought of, if he had not actually seen the 
centaur do it. They might have composed handsome bodies 
of men and horses in all possible ways, through a whole life 
of pseudo-idealism, and yet never dreamed of any such 
thing. But the real living centaur actually trotted across 
Dante's brain, and he saw him do it. 

And on account of this reality it is, that the great idealists 
venture into all kinds of what, to the pseudo-idealists, are 
"vulgarities." Nay, venturing is the wrong word; the great 
men have no choice in the matter; they do not know or care 
whether the things they describe are vulgarities or not. They 
saw them; they are the facts of the case. If they had merely 
composed what they describe, they would have had it at 
their will to refuse this circumstance or add that. But they 
did not compose it. It came to them ready fashioned; they 
were too much impressed by it to think what was vulgar or 
not vulgar in it. It might be a very wrong thing in a centaur 
to have so much beard; but so it was. And, therefore, among 



OF THE NATURALIST IDEAL 59 

the various ready tests of true greatness there is not any 
more certain than this daring reference to, or use of, mean 
and little things — mean and little, that is, to mean and little 
minds; but, when used by the great men, evidently part of 
the noble whole which is authoritatively present before 
them. . . . Thus, in the highest poetry there is no word so 
familiar but a great man will bring good out of it, or rather, 
it will bring good to him, and answer some end for which 
no other word would have done equally well. 

A common person, for instance, would be mightily puz- 
zled to apply the word "whelp" to any one, with a view of 
flattering him. There is a certain freshness and energy in the 
term, which gives it agreeableness; but it seems difficult, at 
first hearing, to use it complimentarily. If the person spoken 
of be a prince, the difficulty seems increased; and when, 
farther, he is at one and the same moment to be called a 
"whelp" and contemplated as a hero, it seems that a com- 
mon idealist might well be brought to a pause. But hear 
Shakspere do it: — 

"Awake his warlike spirit, 
And your great uncle's, Edward the Black Prince, 
Who on the French ground play'd a tragedy, 
Making defeat on the full power of France, 
While his most mighty father on a hill 
Stood smiling, to behold his lion's whelp 
Forage in blood of French nobility."* 

So a common idealist would have been rather alarmed at 
the thought of introducing the name of a street in Paris — 
Straw Street — Rue de Fouarre — into the midst of a descrip- 
tion of the highest heavens. Not so Dante. . . . 

We may dismiss this matter of vulgarity in plain and few 
words, at least as far as regards art. There is never vulgarity 
in a whole truth, however commonplace. It may be unim- 
portant or painful. It cannot be vulgar. Vulgarity is only in 
concealment of truth, or in affectation. 

"Well, but," (at this point the reader asks doubtfully,) 

* Henry V, i, 2. 



60 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

"if then your great central idealist is to show all truth, low 
as well as lovely, receiving it in this passive way, what be- 
comes of all your principles of selection, and of setting in 
the right place, which you were talking about up to the end 
of your fifth paragraph? How is Homer to enforce upon 
Achilles the cutting of the pork chops 'only at such time as 
Homer chooses/ if Homer is to have no choice, but merely 
to see the thing done, and sing it as he sees it?" Why, the 
choice, as well as the vision, is manifested to Homer. The 
vision comes to him in its chosen order. Chosen for him, 
not by him, but yet full of visible and exquisite choice, just 
as a sweet and perfect dream will come to a sweet and per- 
fect person, so that, in some sense, they may be said to have 
chosen their dream, or composed it; and yet they could not 
help dreaming it so, and in no otherwise. Thus, exactly thus, 
in all results of true inventive power, the whole harmony of 
the thing done seems as if it had been wrought by the most 
exquisite rules. But to him who did it, it presented itself so, 
and his will, and knowledge, and personality, for the mo- 
ment went for nothing; he became simply a scribe, and 
wrote what he heard and saw. . . .* 

Finally, as far as I can observe, it is a constant law that 
the greatest men, whether poets or historians, live entirely 
in their own age, and that the greatest fruits of their work 

* In a later chapter on "Turnerian Topography," Ruskin notes how 
often Turner introduced remembered details, however insignificant, 
from previous studies. Turner's composition was an arrangement of 
remembrances, "an act of dream-vision" in which diverse recollections 
were linked by new and strange laws. The imagination of Dante, Tin- 
toretto, and Turner, he concludes, seems to have consisted not in the 
voluntary production of new images, but in an involuntary summon- 
ing, at precisely the right moment, of things actually seen: 

"Imagine all that any of these men had seen or heard in the whole 
course of their lives, laid up accurately in their memories as in vast 
storehouses, extending, with the poets, even to the slightest intona- 
tions of syllables heard in the beginning of their lives, and with the 
painters, down to minute folds of drapery, and shapes of leaves or 
stones; and over all this unindexed and immeasurable mass of treasure, 
the imagination brooding and wandering, but dream-gifted, so as to 
summon at any moment exactly such groups of ideas as shall fit each 
other: this I conceive to be the real nature of the imaginative mind." 



OF THE PATHETIC FALLACY 61 

are gathered out of their own age. Dante paints Italy in the 
thirteenth century; Chaucer, England in the fourteenth; 
Masaccio, Florence in the fifteenth; Tintoret, Venice in the 
sixteenth; all of them utterly regardless of anachronism and 
minor error of every kind, but getting always vital truth out 
of the vital present. 

If it be said that Shakspere wrote perfect historical plays 
on subjects belonging to the preceding centuries, I answer 
that they are perfect plays just because there is no care about 
centuries in them, but a life which all men recognize for 
the human life of all time; and this it is, not because Shak- 
spere sought to give universal truth, but because, painting 
honestly and completely from the men about him, he 
painted that human nature which is indeed constant 
enough, — a rogue in the fifteenth century being, at heart, 
what a rogue is in the nineteenth and was in the twelfth; 
and an honest or a knightly man being, in like manner, very 
similar to other such at any other time. And the work of 
these great idealists is, therefore, always universal; not be- 
cause it is not portrait, but because it is complete portrait 
down to the heart, which is the same in all ages; and the 
work of the mean idealists is not universal, not because it 
is portrait, but because it is half portrait, — of the outside, 
the manners and the dress, not of the heart. Thus Tintoret 
and Shakspere paint, both of them, simply Venetian and 
English nature as they saw it in their time, down to the root; 
and it does for all time; but as for any care to cast them- 
selves into the particular ways and tones of thought, or 
custom, of past time in their historical work, you will find it 
in neither of them, nor in any other perfectly great man that 
I know of. [Vol. Ill, Part 4, Chap. 7] 

Of the Pathetic Fallacy 

German dulness, and English affectation, have of late much 
multiplied among us the use of two of the most objection- 



62 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

able words that were ever coined by the troublesomeness of 
metaphysicians, — namely, "Objective," and "Subjective." 

No words can be more exquisitely, and in all points, use- 
less; and I merely speak of them that I may, at once and for 
ever, get them out of my way, and out of my reader's. But 
to get that done, they must be explained. 

The word "Blue," say certain philosophers, means the 
sensation of colour which the human eye receives in looking 
at the open sky, or at a bell gentian. 

Now, say they farther, as this sensation can only be felt 
when the eye is turned to the object, and as, therefore, no 
such sensation is produced by the object when nobody looks 
at it, therefore the thing, when it is not looked at, is not 
blue; and thus (say they) there are many qualities of things 
which depend as much on something else as on themselves. 
To be sweet, a thing must have a taster; it is only sweet 
while it is being tasted, and if the tongue had not the ca- 
pacity of taste, then the sugar would not have the quality of 
sweetness. 

And then they agree that the qualities of things which 
thus depend upon our perception of them, and upon our 
human nature as affected by them, shall be called Subjec- 
tive; and the qualities of things which they always have, 
irrespective of any other nature, as roundness or squareness, 
shall be called Objective. 

From these ingenious views the step is very easy to a far- 
ther opinion, that it does not much matter what things are 
in themselves, but only what they are to us; and that the 
only real truth of them is their appearance to, or effect 
upon, us. From which position, with a hearty desire for mys- 
tification, and much egotism, selfishness, shallowness, and 
impertinence, a philosopher may easily go so far as to be- 
lieve, and say, that everything in the world depends upon 
his seeing or thinking of it, and that nothing, therefore, 
exists, but what he sees or thinks of. 

Now, to get rid of all these ambiguities and troublesome 
words at once, be it observed that the word "Blue" does 



OF THE PATHETIC FALLACY 63 

not mean the sensation caused by a gentian on the human 
eye; but it means the power of producing that sensation: 
and this power is always there, in the thing, whether we are 
there to experience it or not, and would remain there 
though there were not left a man on the face of the earth. 
Precisely in the same way gunpowder has a power of ex- 
ploding. It will not explode if you put no match to it. But 
it has always the power of so exploding, and is therefore 
called an explosive compound, which it very positively and 
assuredly is, whatever philosophy may say to the contrary. 

In like manner, a gentian does not produce the sensation 
of blueness, if you don't look at it. But it has always the 
power of doing so; its particles being everlastingly so ar- 
ranged by its Maker. And, therefore, the gentian and the 
sky are always verily blue, whatever philosophy may say to 
the contrary; and if you do not see them blue when you 
look at them, it is not their fault, but yours. 

Hence I would say to these philosophers: If, instead of 
using the sonorous phrase, "It is objectively so," you will 
use the plain old phrase, "It is so," and if instead of the 
sonorous phrase, "It is subjectively so," you will say, in plain 
old English, "It does so," or "It seems so to me," you will, 
on the whole, be more intelligible to your fellow-creatures; 
and besides, if you find that a thing which generally "does 
so" to other people (as a gentian looks blue to most men), 
does not so to you, on any particular occasion, you will not 
fall into the impertinence of saying, that the thing is not so, 
or did not so, but you will say simply (what you will be all 
the better for speedily finding out), that something is the 
matter with you. If you find that you cannot explode the 
gunpowder, you will not declare that all gunpowder is sub- 
jective, and all explosion imaginary, but you will simply 
suspect and declare yourself to be an ill-made match. Which, 
on the whole, though there may be a distant chance of a 
mistake about it, is, nevertheless, the wisest conclusion you 
can come to until further experiment. 

Now, therefore, putting these tiresome and absurd words 



64 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

quite out of our way, we may go on at our ease to examine 
the point in question, — namely, the difference between the 
ordinary, proper, and true appearances of things to us; and 
the extraordinary, or false appearances, when we are under 
the influence of emotion, or contemplative fancy; false ap- 
pearances, I say, as being entirely unconnected with any real 
power or character in the object, and only imputed to it 
by us. 

For instance — 

"The spendthrift crocus, bursting through the mould 
Naked and shivering, with his cup of gold."* 

This is very beautiful, and yet very untrue. The crocus 
is not a spendthrift, but a hardy plant; its yellow is not gold, 
but saffron. How is it that we enjoy so much the having it 
put into our heads that it is anything else than a plain 
crocus? 

It is an important question. For, throughout our past 
reasonings about art, we have always found that nothing 
could be good or useful, or ultimately pleasurable, which 
was untrue. But here is something pleasurable in written 
poetry, which is nevertheless wrctrue. And what is more, if 
we think over our favourite poetry, we shall find it full of 
this kind of fallacy, and that we like it all the more for 
being so. 

It will appear also, on consideration of the matter, that 
this fallacy is of two principal kinds. Either, as in this case 
of the crocus, it is the fallacy of wilful fancy, which involves 
no real expectation that it will be believed; or else it is a 
fallacy caused by an excited state of the feelings, making us, 
for the time, more or less irrational. Of the cheating of the 
fancy we shall have to speak presently; but in this chapter, 
I want to examine the nature of the other error, that which 
the mind admits when affected strongly by emotion. Thus, 
for instance, in Alton Locke, — 

* From Oliver Wendell Holmes's Astraea. 



OF THE PATHETIC FALLACY 65 

"They rowed her in across the rolling foam — 
The cruel, crawling foam."* 

The foam is not cruel, neither does it crawl. The state of 
mind which attributes to it these characters of a living 
creature is one in which the reason is unhinged by grief. 
All violent feelings have the same effect. They produce in 
us a falseness in all our impressions of external things, 
which I would generally characterize as the "pathetic 
fallacy." 

Now we are in the habit of considering this fallacy as 
eminently a character of poetical description, and the tem- 
per of mind in which we allow it, as one eminently poetical, 
because passionate. But I believe, if we look well into the 
matter, that we shall find the greatest poets do not often 
admit this kind of falseness, — that it is only the second or- 
der of poets who much delight in it.f 

Thus, when Dante describes the spirits falling from the 
bank of Acheron "as dead leaves flutter from a bough," he 
gives the most perfect image possible of their utter light- 
ness, feebleness, passiveness, and scattering agony of despair, 
without, however, for an instant losing his own clear per- 
ception that these are souls, and those are leaves; he makes 
no confusion of one with the other. But when Coleridge 
speaks of 

"The one red leaf, the last of its clan, 
That dances as often as dance it can"% 

he has a morbid, that is to say, a so far false, idea about the 
leaf; he fancies a life in it, and will, which there are not; 

* From Chapter 26 of Charles Kingsley's novel. 

\ I admit two orders of poets, but no third; and by these two orders 

I mean the creative (Shakspeare, Homer, Dante), and Reflective or 

Perceptive (Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson). But both of these must be 

first-rate in their range, though their range is different; and with poetry 

second-rate in quality no one ought to be allowed to trouble mankind. 

[Ruskin's note.] 

% "Christabel," 11. 49-50. 



66 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

confuses its powerlessness with choice, its fading death with 
merriment, and the wind that shakes it with music. Here, 
however, there is some beauty, even in the morbid passage; 
but take an instance in Homer and Pope. Without the 
knowledge of Ulysses, Elpenor, his youngest follower, has 
fallen from an upper chamber in the Circean palace, and 
has been left dead, unmissed by his leader or companions, 
in the haste of their departure. They cross the sea to the 
Cimmerian land; and Ulysses summons the shades from 
Tartarus. The first which appears is that of the lost Elpenor. 
Ulysses, amazed, and in exactly the spirit of bitter and terri- 
fied lightness which is seen in Hamlet,* addresses the spirit 
with the simple, startled words: — 

"Elpenor! How earnest thou under the shadowy darkness? 
Hast thou come faster on foot than I in my black ship?" 

Which Pope renders thus: — 

"O, say, what angry power Elpenor led 
To glide in shades, and wander with the dead? 
How could thy soul, by realms and seas disjoined, 
Outfly the nimble sail, and leave the lagging wind?" 

I sincerely hope the reader finds no pleasure here, either 
in the nimbleness of the sail, or the laziness of the wind! 
And yet how is it that these conceits are so painful now, 
when they have been pleasant to us in the other instances? 

For a very simple reason. They are not a pathetic fallacy 
at all, for they are put into the mouth of the wrong passion 
— a passion which never could possibly have spoken them — 
agonized curiosity. Ulysses wants to know the facts of the 
matter; and the very last thing his mind could do at the 
moment would be to pause, or suggest in any wise what was 
not a fact. The delay in the first three lines, and conceit in 
the last, jar upon us instantly like the most frightful discord 

* "Well said, old mole! canst work i' the ground so fast?" [Ruskin's 
note.] 



OF THE PATHETIC FALLACY 67 

in music. No poet of true imaginative power could possibly 
have written the passage. 

Therefore we see that the spirit of truth must guide us 
in some sort, even in our enjoyment of fallacy. Coleridge's 
fallacy has no discord in it, but Pope's has set our teeth on 
edge. Without farther questioning, I will endeavour to state 
the main bearings of this matter. 

The temperament which admits the pathetic fallacy, is, 
as I said above, that of a mind and body in some sort too- 
weak to deal fully with what is before them or upon them; 
borne away, or over-clouded, or over-dazzled by emotion; 
and it is a more or less noble state, according to the force of 
the emotion which has induced it. For it is no credit to a 
man that he is not morbid or inaccurate in his perceptions, 
when he has no strength of feeling to warp them; and it is 
in general a sign of higher capacity and stand in the ranks 
of being, that the emotions should be strong enough to van- 
quish, partly, the intellect, and make it believe what they 
choose. But it is still a grander condition when the intellect 
also rises, till it is strong enough to assert its rule against, or 
together with, the utmost efforts of the passions; and the 
whole man stands in an iron glow, white hot, perhaps, but 
still strong, and in no wise evaporating; even if he melts, 
losing none of his weight. 

So, then, we have the three ranks: the man who perceives 
rightly, because he does not feel, and to whom the primrose 
is very accurately the primrose, because he does not love it. 
Then, secondly, the man who perceives wrongly, because 
he feels, and to whom the primrose is anything else than a 
primrose: a star, or a sun, or a fairy's shield, or a forsaken 
maiden. And then, lastly, there is the man who perceives 
rightly in spite of his feelings, and to whom the primrose 
is for ever nothing else than itself — a little flower appre- 
hended in the very plain and leafy fact of it, whatever and 
how many soever the associations and passions may be that 
crowd around it. And, in general, these three classes may be 
rated in comparative order, as the men who are not poets 



68 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

at all, and the poets of the second order, and the poets of 
the first; only however great a man may be, there are always 
some subjects which ought to throw him off his balance; 
some, by which his poor human capacity of thought should 
be conquered, and brought into the inaccurate and vague 
state of perception, so that the language of the highest in- 
spiration becomes broken, obscure, and wild in metaphor, 
resembling that of the weaker man, overborne by weaker 
things. 

And thus, in full, there are four classes: the men who feel 
nothing, and therefore see truly; the men who feel strongly, 
think weakly, and see untruly (second order of poets); the 
men who feel strongly, think strongly, and see truly (first 
order of poets); and the men who, strong as human creatures 
can be, are yet submitted to influences stronger than they, 
and see in a sort untruly, because what they see is incon- 
ceivably above them. This last is the usual condition of 
prophetic inspiration. . . . 

Dante, in his most intense moods, has entire command 
of himself, and can look around calmly, at all moments, 
for the image or the word that will best tell what he sees 
to the upper or lower world. But Keats and Tennyson, and 
the poets of the second order, are generally themselves sub- 
dued by the feelings under which they write, or, at least, 
write as choosing to be so; and therefore admit certain ex- 
pressions and modes of thought which are in some sort 
diseased or false. 

Now so long as we see that the feeling is true, we pardon, 
or are even pleased by, the confessed fallacy of sight which 
it induces: we are pleased, for instance, with those lines of 
Kingsley's above quoted, not because they fallaciously de- 
scribe foam, but because they faithfully describe sorrow. 
But the moment the mind of the speaker becomes cold, that 
moment every such expression becomes untrue, as being for 
ever untrue in the external facts. And there is no greater 
baseness in literature than the habit of using these meta- 
phorical expressions in cool blood. An inspired writer, in 
full impetuosity of passion, may speak wisely and truly of 



OF THE PATHETIC FALLACY 69 

"raging waves of the sea foaming out their own shame"; 
but it is only the basest writer who cannot speak of the sea 
without talking of "raging waves," "remorseless floods," 
"ravenous billows," etc.; and it is one of the signs of the 
highest power in a writer to check all such habits of thought, 
and to keep his eyes fixed firmly on the pure fact, out of 
which if any feeling comes to him or his reader, he knows 
it must be a true one. . . . 

It may be well, perhaps, to give one or two more instances 
to show the peculiar dignity possessed by all passages, which 
thus limit their expression to the pure fact, and leave the 
hearer to gather what he can from it. Here is a notable one 
from the Iliad. Helen, looking from the Scaean gate of Troy 
over the Grecian host, and telling Priam the names of its 
captains, says at last: — 

"I see all the other dark-eyed Greeks; but two I cannot 
see, — Castor and Pollux, — whom one mother bore with me. 
Have they not followed from fair Lacedcemon, or have they 
indeed come in their sea-wandering ships, but now will not 
enter into the battle of men, fearing the shame and the 
scorn that is in Me?" 

Then Homer: — 

"So she spoke. But them, already, the life-giving earth 
possessed, there in Lacedcemon, in the dear fatherland.'' 

Note, here, the high poetical truth carried to the extreme. 
The poet has to speak of the earth in sadness, but he will 
not let that sadness affect or change his thoughts of it. No; 
though Castor and Pollux be dead, yet the earth is our 
mother still, fruitful, life-giving. These are the facts of the 
thing. I see nothing else than these. Make what you will of 
them. . . . 

A poet is great, first in proportion to the strength of his 
passion, and then, that strength being granted, in propor- 
tion to his government of it; there being, however, always a 
point beyond which it would be inhuman and monstrous if 
he pushed this government, and, therefore, a point at which 



70 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

all feverish and wild fancy becomes just and true. Thus the 
destruction of the kingdom of Assyria cannot be contem- 
plated firmly by a prophet of Israel. The fact is too great, 
too wonderful. It overthrows him, dashes him into a con- 
fused element of dreams. All the world is, to his stunned 
thought, full of strange voices. "Yea, the fir-trees rejoice at 
thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, 'Since thou art 
gone down to the grave, no feller is come up against us.' " 
So, still more, the thought of the presence of Deity cannot 
be borne without this great astonishment. "The mountains 
and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and 
all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."* 

But by how much this feeling is noble when it is justified 
by the strength of its cause, by so much it is ignoble when 
there is not cause enough for it; and beyond all other ig- 
nobleness is the mere affectation of it, in hardness of heart. 
Simply bad writing may almost always, as above noticed, 
be known by its adoption of these fanciful metaphorical ex- 
pressions as a sort of current coin; yet there is even a worse, 
at least a more harmful condition of writing than this, in 
which such expressions are not ignorantly and feelinglessly 
caught up, but, by some master, skilful in handling, yet in- 
sincere, deliberately wrought out with chill and studied 
fancy; as if we should try to make an old lava-stream look 
red-hot again, by covering it with dead leaves, or white-hot, 
with hoar-frost. 

When Young is lost in veneration, as he dwells on the 
character of a truly good and holy man, he permits himself 
for a moment to be overborne by the feeling so far as to 
exclaim — 

"Where shall I find him? angels, tell me where. 
You know him; he is near you; point him out. 
Shall I see glories beaming from his brow, 
Or trace his footsteps by the rising flowersff 

* Isaiah 14:8; 55:12. 

j- Night Thoughts, ii, 345. 



OF THE PATHETIC FALLACY 71 

This emotion has a worthy cause, and is thus true and 
right. But now hear the cold-hearted Pope say to a shepherd 
girl— 

"Where'er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade; 
Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade; 
Your praise the birds shall chant in every grove, 
And winds shall waft it to the powers above. 
But would you sing, and rival Orpheus' strain, 
The wondering forests soon should dance again; 
The moving mountains hear the powerful call, 
And headlong streams hang, listening, in their fall."* 

This is not, nor could it for a moment be mistaken for, 
the language of passion. It is simple falsehood, uttered by 
hypocrisy; definite absurdity, rooted in affectation, and 
coldly asserted in the teeth of nature and fact. Passion will 
indeed go far in deceiving itself; but it must be a strong 
passion, not the simple wish of a lover to tempt his mistress 
to sing. Compare a very closely parallel passage in Words- 
worth, in which the lover has lost his mistress: 

"Three years had Barbara in her grave been laid, 
When thus his moan he made: — 

'Oh, move, thou cottage, from behind yon oak, 

Or let the ancient tree uprooted lie, 
That in some other way yon smoke 

May mount into the sky. 
If still behind yon pine-tree's ragged bough, 

Headlong, the waterfall must come, 

Oh, let it, then, be dumb — 
Be anything, sweet stream, but that which thou art now.' "f 

Here is a cottage to be moved, if not a mountain, and 
a waterfall to be silent, if it is not to hang listening: but 
with what different relation to the mind that contemplates 

* Pastorals, "Summer," 11. 73-74, 79-84. 

f " T Is Said That Some Have Died for Love," 11. 11-16, 33-36. 



72 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

them! Here, in the extremity of its agony, the soul cries out 
wildly for relief, which at the same moment it partly knows 
to be impossible, but partly believes possible, in a vague im- 
pression that a miracle might be wrought to give relief even 
to a less sore distress, — that nature is kind, and God is kind, 
and that grief is strong: it knows not well what is possible 
to such grief. To silence a stream, to move a cottage wall, — 
one might think it could do as much as that! 

I believe these instances are enough to illustrate the main 
point I insist upon respecting the pathetic fallacy, — that so 
far as it is a fallacy, it is always the sign of a morbid state 
of mind, and comparatively of a weak one. 

[Vol. Ill, Part 4, Chap. 12] 

Of Classical Landscape 

My reason for asking the reader to give so much of his time 
to the examination of the pathetic fallacy was, that, whether 
in literature or in art, he will find it eminently characteristic 
of the modern mind. . . . For instance, Keats, describing a 
wave breaking out at sea, says of it — 

"Down whose green back the short-lived foam, all hoar, 
Bursts gradual, with a wayward indolence."* 

That is quite perfect, as an example of the modern man- 
ner. The idea of the peculiar action with which foam rolls 
down a long, large wave could not have been given by any 
other words so well as by this "wayward indolence." But 
Homer would never have written, never thought of, such 
words. He could not by any possibility have lost sight of the 
great fact that the wave, from the beginning to the end of it, 
do what it might, was still nothing else than salt water; and 
that salt water could not be either wayward or indolent. He 
will call the waves "over-roofed," "full-charged," "mon- 
strous," "compact-black," "dark-clear," "violet-coloured," 

# Endymion, ii, 11. 349-50. 






OF CLASSICAL LANDSCAPE 73 

"wine-coloured," and so on. But every one of these epithets 
is descriptive of pure physical nature. "Over-roofed" is the 
term he invariably uses of anything — rock, house, or wave — 
that nods over at the brow; the other terms need no ex- 
planation; they are as accurate and intense in truth as words 
can be, but they never show the slightest feeling of anything 
animated in the ocean. Black or clear, monstrous or violet- 
coloured, cold salt water it is always, and nothing but that. 

"Well, but the modern writer, by his admission of the 
tinge of fallacy, has given an idea of something in the action 
of the wave which Homer could not, and surely, therefore, 
has made a step in advance? Also there appears to be a 
degree of sympathy and feeling in the one writer, which 
there is not in the other; and as it has been received for a 
first principle that writers are great in proportion to the 
intensity of their feelings, and Homer seems to have no feel- 
ings about the sea but that it is black and deep, surely in 
this respect also the modern writer is the greater?" 

Stay a moment. Homer had some feeling about the sea; 
a faith in the animation of it much stronger than Keats's. 
But all this sense of something living in it, he separates in 
his mind into a great abstract image of a Sea Power. He 
never says the waves rage, or the waves are idle. But he says 
there is somewhat in, and greater than, the waves, which 
rages, and is idle, and that he calls a god. 

I do not think we ever enough endeavour to enter into 
what a Greek's real notion of a god was. We are so accus- 
tomed to the modern mockeries of the classical religion, so 
accustomed to hear and see the Greek gods introduced as liv- 
ing personages, or invoked for help, by men who believe 
neither in them nor in any other gods, that we seem to have 
infected the Greek ages themselves with the breath, and 
dimmed them with the shade, of our hypocrisy; and are apt 
to think that Homer, as we know that Pope, was merely an 
ingenious fabulist; nay, more than this, that all the nations 
of past time were ingenious fabulists also, to whom the uni- 
verse was a lyrical drama, and by whom whatsoever was said 



74 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

about it was merely a witty allegory, or a graceful lie, of 
which the entire upshot and consummation was a pretty 
statue in the middle of the court, or at the end of the 
garden. . . . 

What, then, was actually the Greek god? In what way 
were these two ideas of human form, and divine power, 
credibly associated in the ancient heart, so as to become a 
subject of true faith irrespective equally of fable, allegory, 
superstitious trust in stone, and demoniacal influence? 

It seems to me that the Greek had exactly the same in- 
stinctive feeling about the elements that we have ourselves; 
that to Homer, as much as to Casimir de la Vigne,* fire 
seemed ravenous and pitiless; to Homer, as much as to 
Keats, the sea-wave appeared wayward or idle, or whatever 
else it may be to the poetical passion. But then the Greek 
reasoned upon this sensation, saying to himself: "I can light 
the fire, and put it out; I can dry this water up, or drink it. 
It cannot be the fire or the water that rages, or that is way- 
ward. But it must be something in this fire and in the water, 
which I cannot destroy by extinguishing the one, or evapo- 
rating the other, any more than I destroy myself by cutting 
off my finger; / was in my finger,— something of me at least 
was; I had a power over it and felt pain in it, though I am 
still as much myself when it is gone. So there may be a power 
in the water which is not water, but to which the water is 
as a body; — which can strike with it, move in it, suffer in it, 
yet not be destroyed with it. This something, this Great 
Water Spirit, I must not confuse with the waves, which are 
only its body. They may flow hither and thither, increase or 
diminish. That must be indivisible — imperishable — a god. 
So of fire also; those rays which I can stop, and in the midst 
of which I cast a shadow, cannot be divine, nor greater than 
I. They cannot feel, but there may be something in them 
that feels, — a glorious intelligence, as much nobler and 
more swift than mine, as these rays, which are its body, are 

* Early nineteenth-century poet, dramatist, and member of the French 
Academy. 



OF CLASSICAL LANDSCAPE 75 

nobler and swifter than my flesh; — the spirit of all light, 
and truth, and melody, and revolving hours." 

It was easy to conceive, farther, that such spirits should 
be able to assume at will a human form, in order to hold 
intercourse with men, or to perform any act for which their 
proper body, whether of fire, earth, or air, was unfitted. And 
it would have been to place them beneath, instead of above, 
humanity, if, assuming the form of man, they could not also 
have tasted his pleasures. Hence the easy step to the more or 
less material ideas of deities, which are apt at first to shock 
us, but which are indeed only dishonourable so far as they 
represent the gods as false and unholy. It is not the material- 
ism, but the vice, which degrades the conception; for the 
materialism itself is never positive, or complete. There is 
always some sense of exaltation in the spiritual and im- 
mortal body; and of a power proceeding from the visible 
form through all the infinity of the element ruled by the 
particular god. The precise nature of the idea is well seen 
in the passage of the Iliad which describes the river Sca- 
mander defending the Trojans against Achilles. In order to 
remonstrate with the hero, the god assumes a human form, 
which nevertheless is in some way or other instantly recog- 
nized by Achilles as that of the river-god: it is addressed at 
once as a river, not as a man; and its voice is the voice of a 
river "out of the deep whirlpools." Achilles refuses to obey 
its commands; and from the human form it returns instantly 
into its natural or divine one, and endeavours to overwhelm 
him with waves. Vulcan defends Achilles, and sends fire 
against the river, which suffers in its water-body, till it is 
able to bear no more. At last even the "nerve of the river," 
or "strength of the river" (note the expression), feels the fire, 
and this "strength of the river" addresses Vulcan in suppli- 
cations for respite. There is in this precisely the idea of a 
vital part of the river-body, which acted and felt, to which, 
if the fire reached, it was death, just as would be the case if it 
touched a vital part of the human body. Throughout the 
passage the manner of conception is perfectly clear and con- 



76 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

sistent; and if, in other places, the exact connection between 
the ruling spirit and the thing ruled is not so manifest, it is 
only because it is almost impossible for the human mind to 
dwell long upon such subjects without falling into incon- 
sistencies, and gradually slackening its effort to grasp the 
entire truth; until the more spiritual part of it slips from its 
hold, and only the human form of the god is left, to be con- 
ceived and described as subject to all the errors of humanity. 
But I do not believe that the idea ever weakens itself down 
to mere allegory. When Pallas is said to attack and strike 
down Mars, it does not mean merely that Wisdom at that 
moment prevailed against Wrath. It means that there are, 
indeed, two great spirits, one entrusted to guide the human 
soul to wisdom and chastity, the other to kindle wrath and 
prompt to battle. It means that these two spirits, on the spot 
where, and at the moment when, a great contest was to be 
decided between all that they each governed in man, then 
and there (assumed) human form, and human weapons, and 
did verily and materially strike at each other, until the 
Spirit of Wrath was crushed. And when Diana is said to 
hunt with her nymphs in the woods, it does not mean 
merely, as Wordsworth puts it, that the poet or shepherd 
saw the moon and stars glancing between the branches of 
the trees, and wished to say so figuratively. It means that 
there is a living spirit, to which the light of the moon is a 
body; which takes delight in glancing between the clouds 
and following the wild beasts as they wander through the 
night; and that this spirit sometimes assumes a perfect 
human form, and in this form, with real arrows, pursues 
and slays the wild beasts, which with its mere arrows of 
moonlight it could not slay; retaining, nevertheless, all the 
while, its power and being in the moonlight, and in all else 
that it rules. 

There is not the smallest inconsistency or unspirituality in 
this conception. If there were, it would attach equally to the 
appearance of the angels to Jacob, Abraham, Joshua, or 
Manoah. In all those instances the highest authority which 
governs our own faith requires us to conceive divine power 



OF CLASSICAL LANDSCAPE 77 

clothed with a human form (a form so real that it is recog- 
nized for superhuman only by its "doing wondrously"), 
and retaining, nevertheless, sovereignty and omnipresence 
in all the world. This is precisely, as I understand it, the 
heathen idea of a God; and it is impossible to comprehend 
any single part of the Greek mind until we grasp this faith- 
fully, not endeavouring to explain it away in any wise, but 
accepting, with frank decision and definition, the tangible 
existence of its deities: — blue-eyed — white-fleshed — human- 
hearted, — capable at their choice of meeting man absolutely 
in his own nature — feasting with him — talking with him — 
fighting with him, eye to eye, or breast to breast, as Mars 
with Diomed; or else, dealing with him in a more retired 
spirituality, as Apollo sending the plague upon the Greeks, 
when his quiver rattles at his shoulders as he moves, and yet 
the darts sent forth of it strike not as arrows, but as plague; 
or, finally, retiring completely into the material universe 
which they properly inhabit, and dealing with man through 
that, as Scamander with Achilles, through his waves. 

Nor is there anything whatever in the various actions re- 
corded of the gods, however apparently ignoble, to indicate 
weakness of belief in them. Very frequently things which ap- 
pear to us ignoble are merely the simplicities of a pure and 
truthful age. When Juno beats Diana about the ears with 
her own quiver, for instance, we start at first, as if Homer 
could not have believed that they were both real goddesses. 
But what should Juno have done? Killed Diana with a look? 
Nay, she neither wished to do so, nor could she have done 
so, by the very faith of Diana's goddess-ship. Diana is as im- 
mortal as herself. Frowned Diana into submission? But 
Diana has come expressly to try conclusions with her, and 
will by no means be frowned into submission. Wounded her 
with a celestial lance? That sounds more poetical, but it is 
in reality partly more savage and partly more absurd, than 
Homer. More savage, for it makes Juno more cruel, there- 
fore less divine; and more absurd, for it only seems elevated 
in tone, because we use the word "celestial," which means 
nothing. What sort of a thing is a "celestial" lance? Not a 



78 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

wooden one. Of what then? Of moonbeams, or clouds, or 
mist. Well, therefore, Diana's arrows were of mist too; and 
her quiver, and herself, and Juno, with her lance, and all, 
vanish into mist. Why not have said at once, if that is all 
you mean, that two mists met, and one drove the other back? 
That would have been rational and intelligible, but not to 
talk of celestial lances. Homer had no such misty fancy; he 
believed the two goddesses were there in true bodies, with 
true weapons, on the true earth; and still I ask, what should 
Juno have done? Not beaten Diana? No; for it is unlady- 
like. Un-English-lady-like, yes; but by no means un-Greek- 
lady-like, nor even un-natural-lady-like. If a modern lady 
does not beat her servant or her rival about the ears, it is 
oftener because she is too weak, or too proud, than because 
she is of purer mind than Homer's Juno. She will not strike 
them; but she will overwork the one or slander the other 
without pity; and Homer would not have thought that one 
whit more goddess-like than striking them with her open 
hand. 

If, however, the reader likes to suppose that while the two 
goddesses in personal presence thus fought with arrow and 
quiver, there was also a broader and vaster contest supposed 
by Homer between the elements they ruled; and that the 
goddess of the heavens, as she struck the goddess of the 
moon on the flushing cheek, was at the same instant exer- 
cising omnipresent power in the heavens themselves, and 
gathering clouds, with which, filled with the moon's own 
arrows or beams, she was encumbering and concealing the 
moon; he is welcome to this outcarrying of the idea, pro- 
vided that he does not pretend to make it an interpretation 
instead of a mere extension, nor think to explain away my 
real, running, beautiful beaten Diana, into a moon behind 
clouds. . . . 

Such being their general idea of the gods, we can now 
easily understand the habitual tone of their feelings towards 
what was beautiful in nature. With us, observe, the idea of 
the Divinity is apt to get separated from the life of nature; 



OF CLASSICAL LANDSCAPE 79 

and imagining our God upon a cloudy throne, far above 
the earth, and not in the flowers or waters, we approach 
those visible things with a theory that they are dead; gov- 
erned by physical laws, and so forth. But coming to them, 
we find the theory fail; that they are not dead; that, say 
what we choose about them, the instinctive sense of their 
being alive is too strong for us; and in scorn of all physical 
law, the wilful fountain sings, and the kindly flowers re- 
joice. And then, puzzled, and yet happy; pleased, and yet 
ashamed of being so; accepting sympathy from nature, 
which we do not believe it gives, and giving sympathy to 
nature, which we do not believe it receives, — mixing, be- 
sides, all manner of purposeful play and conceit with these 
involuntary fellowships, — we fall necessarily into the curi- 
ous web of hesitating sentiment, pathetic fallacy, and wan- 
dering fancy, which form a great part of our modern view 
of nature. But the Greek never removed his god out of na- 
ture at all; never attempted for a moment to contradict his 
instinctive sense that God was everywhere. "The tree is 
glad," said he, "I know it is; I can cut it down: no matter, 
there was a nymph in it. The water does sing," said he; "I 
can dry it up; but no matter, there was a naiad in it." But 
in thus clearly defining his belief, observe, he threw it en- 
tirely into a human form, and gave his faith to nothing but 
the image of his own humanity. What sympathy and fellow- 
ship he had, were always for the spirit in the stream, not 
for the stream; always for the dryad in the wood, not for the 
wood. Content with this human sympathy, he approached 
the actual waves and woody fibres with no sympathy at all. 
The spirit that ruled them, he received as a plain fact. 
Them, also, ruled and material, he received as plain facts; 
they, without their spirit, were dead enough. A rose was 
good for scent, and a stream for sound and coolness; for the 
rest, one was no more than leaves, the other no more than 
water; he could not make anything else of them; and the 
divine power, which was involved in their existence, having 
been all distilled away by him into an independent Flora 



80 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

or Thetis, the poor leaves or waves were left, in mere cold 
corporealness, to make the most of their being discernibly 
red and soft, clear and wet, and unacknowledged in any 
other power whatsoever. 

Then, observe farther, the Greeks lived in the midst of 
the most beautiful nature, and were as familiar with blue 
sea, clear air, and sweet outlines of mountain, as we are with 
brick walls, black smoke, and level fields. This perfect fa- 
miliarity rendered all such scenes of natural beauty unexcit- 
ing, if not indifferent to them, by lulling and overwearying 
the imagination as far as it was concerned with such things; 
but there was another kind of beauty which they found it 
required effort to obtain, and which, when thoroughly ob- 
tained, seemed more glorious than any of this wild loveliness 
— the beauty of the human countenance and form. This, they 
perceived, could only be reached by continual exercise of vir- 
tue; and it was in Heaven's sight, and theirs, all the more 
beautiful because it needed this self-denial to obtain it. . . . 

Farther, the human beauty, which, whether in its bodily 
being or in imagined divinity, had become, for the reasons 
we have seen, the principal object of culture and sympathy 
to these Greeks, was, in its perfection, eminently orderly, 
symmetrical, and tender. Hence, contemplating it constantly 
in this state, they could not but feel a proportionate fear of 
all that was disorderly, unbalanced, and rugged. Having 
trained their stoutest soldiers into a strength so delicate and 
lovely, that their white flesh, with their blood upon it, 
should look like ivory stained with purple; and having al- 
ways around them, in the motion and majesty of this beauty, 
enough for the full employment of their imagination, they 
shrank with dread or hatred from all the ruggedness of 
lower nature, — from the wrinkled forest bark, the jagged 
hill-crest, and irregular, inorganic storm of sky; looking to 
these for the most part as adverse powers, and taking pleas- 
ure only in such portions of the lower world as were at once 
conducive to the rest and health of the human frame, and 
in harmony with the laws of its gentler beauty. 

Thus, as far as I recollect, without a single exception, 



OF CLASSICAL LANDSCAPE 81 

every Homeric landscape, intended to be beautiful, is com- 
posed of a fountain, a meadow, and a shady grove. This 
ideal is very interestingly marked, as intended for a perfect 
one, in the fifth book of the Odyssey; when Mercury him- 
self stops for a moment, though on a message, to look at a 
landscape "which even an immortal might be gladdened to 
behold." This landscape consists of a cave covered with a 
running vine, all blooming into grapes, and surrounded by 
a grove of alder, poplar, and sweet-smelling cypress. Four 
fountains of white (foaming) water, springing in succession 
(mark the order liness), and close to one another, flow away 
in different directions, through a meadow full of violets and 
parsley (parsley, to mark its moisture, being elsewhere called 
"marsh-nourished," and associated with the lotus); the air 
is perfumed not only by these violets, and by the sweet 
cypress, but by Calypso's fire of finely chopped cedar-wood, 
which sends a smoke, as of incense, through the island; 
Calypso herself is singing; and finally, upon the trees are 
resting, or roosting, owls, hawks, and "long-tongued sea- 
crows." Whether these last are considered as a part of the 
ideal landscape, as marine singing birds, I know not; but 
the approval of Mercury appears to be elicited chiefly by 
the fountains and violet meadow. 

Now the notable things in this description are, first, the 
evident subservience of the whole landscape to human com- 
fort, to the foot, the taste, or the smell; and, secondly, that 
throughout the passage there is not a single figurative word 
expressive of the things being in any wise other than plain 
grass, fruit, or flower. I have used the term "spring" of the 
fountains, because, without doubt, Homer means that they 
sprang forth brightly, having their source at the foot of the 
rocks (as copious fountains nearly always have); but Homer 
does not say "spring," he says simply flow, and uses only one 
word for "growing softly," or "richly," of the tall trees, the 
vine, and the violets. There is, however, some expression of 
sympathy with the sea-birds; he speaks of them in precisely 
the same terms, as in other places of naval nations, saying 
they "have care of the works of the sea." 



82 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

If we glance through the references to pleasant landscape 
which occur in other parts of the Odyssey, we shall always 
be struck by this quiet subjection of their every feature to 
human service, and by the excessive similarity in the 
scenes. ... In all this I cannot too strongly mark the utter 
absence of any trace of the feeling for what we call the pic- 
turesque, and the constant dwelling of the writer's mind on 
what was available, pleasant, or useful; his ideas respecting 
all landscape being not uncharacteristically summed, finally, 
by Pallas herself; when, meeting Ulysses, who after his long 
wandering does not recognize his own country, and meaning 
to describe it as politely and soothingly as possible, she says: 
— "This Ithaca of ours is, indeed, a rough country enough, 
and not good for driving in; but, still, things might be 
worse: it has plenty of corn, and good wine, and always rain, 
and soft nourishing dew, and it has good feeding for goats 
and oxen, and all manner of wood, and springs fit to drink 
at all the year round." 

We shall see presently how the blundering, pseudo-pic- 
turesque pseudo-classical minds of Claude and the Renais- 
sance landscape-painters, wholly missing Homer's practical 
common sense, and equally incapable of feeling the quiet 
natural grace and sweetness of his asphodel meadows, tender 
aspen poplars, or running vines, — fastened on his ports and 
caves, as the only available features of his scenery; and ap- 
pointed the type of "classical landscape" thenceforward to 
consist in a bay of insipid sea, and a rock with a hole 
through it. . . . 

We think of the Greeks as poetical, ideal, imaginative, in 
a way that a modern poet or novelist is; supposing that their 
thoughts about their mythology and world were as visionary 
and artificial as ours are: but I think the passages I have 
quoted show that it was not so, although it may be difficult 
for us to apprehend the strange minglings in them of the 
elements of faith, which, in our days, have been blended 
with other parts of human nature in a totally different guise. 
Perhaps the Greek mind may be best imagined by taking, as 



OF MODERN LANDSCAPE 83 

its groundwork, that of a good, conscientious, but illiterate 
Scotch Presbyterian Border farmer of a century or two back, 
having perfect faith in the bodily appearances of Satan and 
his imps; and in all kelpies, brownies, and fairies. Substitute 
for the indignant terrors in this man's mind, a general per- 
suasion of the Divinity, more or less beneficent, yet faultful, 
of all these beings; that is to say, take away his belief in the 
demoniacal malignity of the fallen spiritual world, and 
lower, in the same degree, his conceptions of the angelical, 
retaining for him the same firm faith in both; keep his ideas 
about flowers and beautiful scenery much as they are, — his 
delight in regular ploughed land and meadows, and a neat 
garden (only with rows of gooseberry bushes instead of 
vines), being, in all probability, about accurately representa- 
tive of the feelings of Ulysses; then, let the military spirit 
that is in him, glowing against the Border forager, or the 
foe of old Flodden and Chevy-Chase, be made more princi- 
pal, with a higher sense of nobleness in soldiership, not as a 
careless excitement, but a knightly duty; and increased by 
high cultivation of every personal quality, not of mere 
shaggy strength, but graceful strength, aided by a softer cli- 
mate, and educated in all proper harmony of sight and 
sound; finally, instead of an informed Christian, suppose 
him to have only the patriarchal Jewish knowledge of the 
Deity, and even this obscured by tradition, but still thor- 
oughly solemn and faithful, requiring his continual service 
as a priest of burnt sacrifice and meat offering; and I think 
we shall get a pretty close approximation to the vital being 
of a true old Greek. [Vol. Ill, Part 4, Chap. 13] 



Of Modern Landscape 



We turn our eyes, therefore, as boldly and as quickly as may 
be, from these serene fields and skies of mediaeval art, to the 
most characteristic examples of modern landscape. And, I 



84 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

believe, the first thing that will strike us, or that ought to 
strike us, is their cloudiness. 

Out of perfect light and motionless air, we find ourselves 
on a sudden brought under sombre skies, and into drifting 
wind: and, with fickle sunbeams flashing in our face, or 
utterly drenched with sweep of rain, we are reduced to track 
the changes of the shadows on the grass, or watch the rents 
of twilight through angry cloud. And we find that whereas 
all the pleasure of the mediaeval was in stability, definiteness, 
and luminousness, we are expected to rejoice in darkness, 
and triumph in mutability; to lay the foundation of happi- 
ness in things which momentarily change or fade; and to 
expect the utmost satisfaction and instruction from what it 
is impossible to arrest, and difficult to comprehend. 

We find, however, together with this general delight in 
breeze and darkness, much attention to the real form of 
clouds, and careful drawing of effects of mist; so that the 
appearance of objects, as seen through it, becomes a subject 
of science with us; and the faithful representation of that 
appearance is made of primal importance, under the name 
of aerial perspective. The aspects of sunset and sunrise, with 
all their attendant phenomena of cloud and mist, are watch- 
fully delineated; and in ordinary daylight landscape, the sky 
is considered of so much importance, that a principal mass 
of foliage, or a whole foreground, is unhesitatingly thrown 
into shade merely to bring out the form of a white cloud. 
So that, if a general and characteristic name were needed 
for modern landscape art, none better could be invented 
than "the service of clouds." 

And this name would, unfortunately, be characteristic of 
our art in more ways than one. ... I said that all the Greeks 
spoke kindly about the clouds, except Aristophanes; and he, 
I am sorry to say (since his report is so unfavourable), is the 
only Greek who had studied them attentively. He tells us, 
first, that they are "great goddesses to idle men"; then, that 
they are "mistresses of disputings, and logic, and monstrosi- 
ties, and noisy chattering"; declares that whoso believes in 



OF MODERN LANDSCAPE 85 

their divinity must first disbelieve in Jupiter, and place su- 
preme power in the hands of an unknown god "Whirl- 
wind"; and, finally, he displays their influence over the 
mind of one of their disciples, in his sudden desire "to speak 
ingeniously concerning smoke." 

There is, I fear, an infinite truth in this Aristophanic 
judgment applied to our modern cloud-worship. Assuredly, 
much of the love of mystery in our romances, our poetry, 
our art, and, above all, in our metaphysics, must come under 
that definition so long ago given by the great Greek, "speak- 
ing ingeniously concerning smoke." And much of the in- 
stinct, which, partially developed in painting, may be now 
seen throughout every mode of exertion of mind, — the easily 
encouraged doubt, easily excited curiosity, habitual agita- 
tion, and delight in the changing and the marvellous, as 
opposed to the old quiet serenity of social custom and re- 
ligious faith, — is again deeply defined in those few words, 
the "dethroning of Jupiter," the "coronation of the whirl- 
wind." . . . 

The next thing that will strike us, after this love of clouds, 
is the love of liberty. Whereas the mediaeval was always shut- 
ting himself into castles, and behind fosses, and drawing 
brickwork neatly, and beds of flowers primly, our painters 
delight in getting to the open fields and moors, abhor all 
hedges and moats; never paint anything but free-growing 
trees, and rivers gliding "at their own sweet will"; eschew 
formality down to the smallest detail; break and displace 
the brickwork which the mediaeval would have carefully 
cemented; leave unpruned the thickets he would have deli- 
cately trimmed; and, carrying the love of liberty even to 
license, and the love of wildness even to ruin, take pleasure 
at last in every aspect of age and desolation which emanci- 
pates the objects of nature from the government of men; — 
on the castle wall displacing its tapestry with ivy, and 
spreading, through the garden, the bramble for the rose. 

Connected with this love of liberty we find a singular 
manifestation of love of mountains, and see our painters 



86 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

traversing the wildest places of the globe in order to obtain 
subjects with craggy foregrounds and purple distances. 
Some few of them remain content with pollards and flat 
land; but these are always men of third-rate order; and the 
leading masters, while they do not reject the beauty of the 
low grounds, reserve their highest powers to paint Alpine 
peaks or Italian promontories. And it is eminently notice- 
able, also, that this pleasure in the mountains is never min- 
gled with fear, or tempered by a spirit of meditation, as with 
the mediaeval; but is always free and fearless, brightly ex- 
hilarating, and wholly unreflective; so that the painter feels 
that his mountain foreground may be more consistently ani- 
mated by a sportsman than a hermit; and our modern 
society in general goes to the mountains, not to fast, but to 
feast, and leaves their glaciers covered with chicken-bones 
and egg-shells. 

Connected with this want of any sense of solemnity in 
mountain scenery, is a general profanity of temper in re- 
garding all the rest of nature; that is to say, a total absence 
of faith in the presence of any deity therein. Whereas the 
mediaeval never painted a cloud, but with the purpose of 
placing an angel in it; and a Greek never entered a wood 
without expecting to meet a god in it; we should think the 
appearance of an angel in the cloud wholly unnatural, and 
should be seriously surprised by meeting a god anywhere. 
Our chief ideas about the wood are connected with poach- 
ing. We have no belief that the clouds contain more than 
so many inches of rain or hail, and from our ponds and 
ditches expect nothing more divine than ducks and water- 
cresses. 

Finally: connected with this profanity of temper is a 
strong tendency to deny the sacred element of colour, and 
make our boast in blackness. For though occasionally glar- 
ing or violent, modern colour is on the whole eminently 
sombre, tending continually to grey or brown, and by many 
of our best painters consistently falsified, with a confessed 
pride in what they call chaste or subdued tints; so that, 



OF MODERN LANDSCAPE 87 

whereas a mediaeval paints his sky bright blue and his fore- 
ground bright green, gilds the towers of his castles, and 
clothes his figures with purple and white, we paint our sky 
grey, our foreground black, and our foliage brown, and 
think that enough is sacrificed to the sun in admitting the 
dangerous brightness of a scarlet cloak or a blue jacket. 

These, I believe, are the principal points which would 
strike us instantly, if we were to be brought suddenly into 
an exhibition of modern landscapes out of a room filled 
with mediaeval work. It is evident that there are both evil 
and good in this change; but how much evil, or how much 
good, we can only estimate by considering, as in the former 
divisions of our inquiry, what are the real roots of the habits 
of mind which have caused them. 

At first, it is evident that the title "Dark Ages," given to 
the mediaeval centuries, is, respecting art, wholly inappli- 
cable. They were, on the contrary, the bright ages; ours 
are the dark ones. I do not mean metaphysically, but liter- 
ally. They were the ages of gold; ours are the ages of umber. 

This is partly mere mistake in us; we build brown brick 
walls, and wear brown coats, because we have been blunder- 
ingly taught to do so, and go on doing so mechanically. 
There is, however, also some cause for the change in our 
own tempers. On the whole, these are much sadder ages 
than the early ones; not sadder in a noble and deep way, but 
in a dim wearied way, — the way of ennui, and jaded intel- 
lect, and uncomfortableness of soul and body. The Middle 
Ages had their wars and agonies, but also intense delights. 
Their gold was dashed with blood; but ours is sprinkled 
with dust. Their life was inwoven with white and purple: 
ours is one seamless stuff of brown. Not that we are without 
apparent festivity, but festivity more or less forced, mis- 
taken, embittered, incomplete — not of the heart. How won- 
derfully, since Shakspere's time, have we lost the power of 
laughing at bad jests! The very finish of our wit belies our 
gaiety. 

The profoundest reason of this darkness of heart is, I 



88 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

believe, our want of faith. There never yet was a generation 
of men (savage or civilized) who, taken as a body, so wofully 
fulfilled the words "having no hope, and without God in 
the world," as the present civilized European race. A Red 
Indian or Otaheitan savage has more sense of a divine ex- 
istence round him, or government over him, than the plural- 
ity of refined Londoners and Parisians: and those among us 
who may in some sense be said to believe, are divided almost 
without exception into two broad classes, Romanist and 
Puritan; who, but for the interference of the unbelieving 
portions of society, would, either of them, reduce the other 
sect as speedily as possible to ashes. . . . Nearly all our pow- 
erful men in this age of the world are unbelievers; the best 
of them in doubt and misery; the worst in reckless defiance; 
the plurality, in plodding hesitation, doing, as well as they 
can, what practical work lies ready to their hands. Most of 
our scientific men are in the last class: our popular authors 
either set themselves definitely against all religious form, 
pleading for simple truth and benevolence, (Thackeray, 
Dickens,) or give themselves up to bitter and fruitless state- 
ment of facts, (De Balzac,) or surface-painting, (Scott,) or 
careless blasphemy, sad or smiling, (Byron, Beranger). Our 
earnest poets and deepest thinkers are doubtful and indig- 
nant, (Tennyson, Carlyle); one or two, anchored, indeed, 
but anxious or weeping, (Wordsworth, Mrs. Browning); and 
of these two, the first is not so sure of his anchor, but that 
now and then it drags with him, even to make him cry 
out, — 

"Great God, I had rather be 

A Pagan suckled in some creed outworn; 
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, 

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn" 

In politics, religion is now a name; in art, a hypocrisy 
or affectation. Over German religious pictures the inscrip- 
tion, "See how Pious I am," can be read at a glance by any 
clear-sighted person. Over French and English religious pic- 



OF MODERN LANDSCAPE 89 

tures the inscription, "See how Impious I am," is equally 
legible. All sincere and modest art is, among us, profane. 

This faithlessness operates among us according to our 
tempers, producing either sadness or levity, and being the 
ultimate root alike of our discontents and of our wanton- 
nesses. It is marvellous how full of contradiction it makes 
us: we are first dull, and seek for wild and lonely places 
because we have no heart for the garden; presently we re- 
cover our spirits, and build an assembly-room among the 
mountains, because we have no reverence for the desert. I 
do not know if there be game on Sinai, but I am always ex- 
pecting to hear of some one's shooting over it. 

There is, however, another, and a more innocent root of 
our delight in wild scenery. 

All the Renaissance principles of art tended, as I have be- 
fore often explained, to the setting Beauty above Truth, 
and seeking for it always at the expense of truth. And the 
proper punishment of such pursuit — the punishment which 
all the laws of the universe rendered inevitable — was, that 
those who thus pursued beauty should wholly lose sight of 
beauty. All the thinkers of the age, as we saw previously, 
declared that it did not exist. The age seconded their efforts, 
and banished beauty, so far as human effort could succeed 
in doing so, from the face of the earth, and the form of man. 
To powder the hair, to patch the cheek, to hoop the body, 
to buckle the foot, were all part and parcel of the same sys- 
tem which reduced streets to brick walls, and pictures to 
brown stains. One desert of Ugliness was extended before 
the eyes of mankind; and their pursuit of the beautiful, so 
recklessly continued, received unexpected consummation in 
high-heeled shoes and periwigs — Gower Street, and Gaspar 
Poussin. 

Reaction from this state was inevitable, if any true life 
was left in the races of mankind; and, accordingly, though 
still forced, by rule and fashion, to the producing and wear- 
ing all that is ugly, men steal out, half-ashamed of them- 
selves for doing so, to the fields and mountains; and, finding 



90 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

among these the colour, and liberty, and variety, and power, 
which are for ever grateful to them, delight in these to an 
extent never before known; rejoice in all the wildest shat- 
tering of the mountain side, as an opposition to Gower 
Street, gaze in a rapt manner at sunsets and sunrises, to see 
there the blue, and gold, and purple, which glow for them 
no longer on knight's armour or temple porch; and gather 
with care out of the fields, into their blotted herbaria, the 
flowers which the five orders of architecture have banished 
from their doors and casements. . . . 

It is not, however, only to existing inanimate nature that 
our want of beauty in person and dress has driven us. The 
imagination of it, as it was seen in our ancestors, haunts us 
continually; and while we yield to the present fashions, or 
act in accordance with the dullest modern principles of 
economy and utility, we look fondly back to the manners 
of the ages of chivalry, and delight in painting, to the fancy, 
the fashions we pretend to despise, and the splendours we 
think it wise to abandon. The furniture and personages of 
our romance are sought, when the writer desires to please 
most easily, in the centuries which we profess to have sur- 
passed in everything; the art which takes us into the present 
times is considered as both daring and degraded, and while 
the weakest words please us, and are regarded as poetry, 
which recall the manners of our forefathers, or of strangers, 
it is only as familiar and vulgar that we accept the descrip- 
tion of our own. 

In this we are wholly different from all the races that 
preceded us. All other nations have regarded their ancestors 
with reverence as saints or heroes; but have nevertheless 
thought their own deeds and ways of life the fitting subjects 
for their arts of painting or of verse. We, on the contrary, 
regard our ancestors as foolish and wicked, but yet find our 
chief artistic pleasure in descriptions of their ways of life. 

The Greeks and mediaevals honoured, but did not imitate 
their forefathers; we imitate, but do not honour. . . . 

Farther: as the admiration of mankind is found, in our 



THE MOUNTAIN GLOOM 91 

times, to have in great part passed from men to mountains, 
and from human emotion to natural phenomena, we may 
anticipate that the great strength of art will also be warped 
in this direction; with this notable result for us, that 
whereas the greatest painters or painter of classical and 
mediaeval periods, being wholly devoted to the representa- 
tion of humanity, furnished us with but little to examine in 
landscape, the greatest painters or painter of modern times 
will in all probability be devoted to landscape principally; 
and farther, because in representing human emotion words 
surpass painting, but in representing natural scenery paint- 
ing surpasses words, we may anticipate also that the painter 
and poet (for convenience' sake I here use the words in op- 
position) will somewhat change their relations of rank in 
illustrating the mind of the age; that the painter will be- 
come of more importance, the poet of less; and that the re- 
lations between the men who are the types and first-fruits of 
the age in word and work, — namely, Scott and Turner, — 
will be, in many curious respects, different from those be- 
tween Homer and Phidias, or Dante and Giotto. . . . 

Then, as touching the kind of work done by these two 
men, the more I think of it I find this conclusion more im- 
pressed upon me, — that the greatest thing a human soul 
ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it 
saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one 
who can think, but thousands can think for one who can 
see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, — all 
in one. [Vol. Ill, Part 4, Chap. 16] 

The Mountain Gloom 

I do not know any district possessing a more pure or unin- 
terrupted fulness of mountain character (and that of the 
highest order), or which appears to have been less disturbed 
by foreign agencies, than that which borders the course of 
the Trient between Valorcine and Martigny. The paths 



92 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

which lead to it out of the valley of the Rhone, rising at first 
in steep circles among the walnut trees, like winding stairs 
among the pillars of a Gothic tower, retire over the shoul- 
ders of the hills into a valley almost unknown, but thickly 
inhabited by an industrious and patient population. . . . 

Green field, and glowing rock, and glancing streamlet, all 
slope together in the sunshine towards the brows of ravines, 
where the pines take up their own dominion of saddened 
shade; and with everlasting roar in the twilight, the stronger 
torrents thunder down, pale from the glaciers, filling all 
their chasms with enchanted cold, beating themselves to 
pieces against the great rocks that they have themselves cast 
down, and forcing fierce way beneath their ghastly poise. 

The mountain paths stoop to these glens in forky zigzags, 
leading to some grey and narrow arch, all fringed under its 
shuddering curve with the ferns that fear the light; a cross 
of rough-hewn pine, iron-bound to its parapet, standing 
dark against the lurid fury of the foam. Far up the glen, as 
we pause beside the cross, the sky is seen through the open- 
ings in the pines, thin with excess of light; and, in its clear, 
consuming flame of white space, the summits of the rocky 
mountains are gathered into solemn crowns and circlets, all 
flushed in that strange, faint silence of possession by the 
sunshine which has in it so deep a melancholy; full of 
power, yet as frail as shadows: lifeless, like the walls of a 
sepulchre, yet beautiful in tender fall of crimson folds, like 
the veil of some sea spirit, that lives and dies as the foam 
flashes; fixed on a perpetual throne, stern against all 
strength, lifted above all sorrow, and yet effaced and melted 
utterly into the air by that last sunbeam that has crossed to 
them from between the two golden clouds. 

High above all sorrow: yes; but not unwitnessing to it. 
The traveller on his happy journey, as his foot springs from 
the deep turf and strikes the pebbles gaily over the edge of 
the mountain road, sees with a glance of delight the clusters 
of nutbrown cottages that nestle among those sloping or- 
chards, and glow beneath the boughs of the pines. Here it 



THE MOUNTAIN GLOOM 93 

may well seem to him, if there be sometimes hardship, there 
must be at least innocence and peace, and fellowship of the 
human soul with nature. It is not so. The wild goats that 
leap along those rocks have as much passion of joy in all 
that fair work of God as the men that toil among them. 
Perhaps more. Enter the street of one of those villages, and 
you will find it foul with that gloomy foulness that is suf- 
fered only by torpor, or by anguish of soul. Here, it is 
torpor — not absolute suffering — not starvation or disease, 
but darkness of calm enduring; the spring known only as 
the time of the scythe, and the autumn as the time of the 
sickle, and the sun only as a warmth, the wind as a chill, and 
the mountains as a danger. They do not understand so 
much as the name of beauty, or of knowledge. They under- 
stand dimly that of virtue. Love, patience, hospitality, faith, 
— these things they know. To glean their meadows side by 
side, so happier; to bear the burden up the breathless moun- 
tain flank, unmurmuringly; to bid the stranger drink from 
their vessel of milk; to see at the foot of their low death- 
beds a pale figure upon a cross, dying, also patiently; — in 
this they are different from the cattle and from the stones, 
but in all this unrewarded as far as concerns the present life. 
For them, there is neither hope nor passion of spirit; for 
them neither advance nor exultation. Black bread, rude 
roof, dark night, laborious day, weary arm at sunset; and 
life ebbs away. No books, no thoughts, no attainments, no 
rest; except only sometimes a little sitting in the sun under 
the church wall, as the bell tolls thin and far in the moun- 
tain air; a pattering of a few prayers, not understood, by the 
altar rails of the dimly gilded chapel, and so back to the 
sombre home, with the cloud upon them still unbroken — 
that cloud of rocky gloom, born out of the wild torrents and 
ruinous stones, and unlightened, even in their religion, ex- 
cept by the vague promise of some better thing unknown, 
mingled with threatening, and obscured by an unspeakable 
horror, — a smoke, as it were, of martyrdom, coiling up with 
the incense, and, amidst the images of tortured bodies and 



94 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

lamenting spirits in hurtling flames, the very cross, for them, 
dashed more deeply than for others, with gouts of blood. 

Do not let this be thought a darkened picture of the life 
of these mountaineers. It is literal fact. ... As we penetrate 
farther among the hills we shall find it becoming very pain- 
ful. We are walking, perhaps, in a summer afternoon, up 
the valley of Zermatt (a German valley), the sun shining 
brightly on grassy knolls and through fringes of pines, the 
goat leaping happily, and the cattle bells ringing sweetly, 
and the snowy mountains shining like heavenly castles far 
above. We see, a little way off, a small white chapel, shel- 
tered behind one of the flowery hillocks of mountain turf; 
and we approach its little window, thinking to look through 
it into some quiet home of prayer; but the window is grated 
with iron, and open to the winds, and when we look through 
it, behold — a heap of white human bones mouldering into 
whiter dust! 

So also in that same sweet valley, of which I have just 
been speaking, between Chamouni and the Valais, at every 
turn of the pleasant pathway, where the scent of the thyme 
lies richest upon its rock, we shall see a little cross and 
shrine set under one of them; and go up to it, hoping to 
receive some happy thought of the Redeemer, by whom all 
these lovely things were made, and still consist. But when 
we come near — behold, beneath the cross, a rude picture 
of souls tormented in red tongues of hell fire, and pierced 
by demons. 

As we pass towards Italy the appearance of this gloom 
deepens; and when we descend the southern slope of the 
Alps we shall find this bringing forward of the image of 
Death associated with an endurance of the most painful 
aspects of disease; so that conditions of human suffering, 
which in any other country would be confined in hospitals, 
are permitted to be openly exhibited by the wayside; and 
with this exposure of the degraded human form is farther 
connected an insensibility to ugliness and imperfection in 
other things; so that the ruined wall, neglected garden, and 



THE MOUNTAIN GLOOM 95 

uncleansed chamber, seem to unite in expressing a gloom 
of spirit possessing the inhabitants of the whole land. It 
does not appear to arise from poverty, nor careless content- 
ment with little: there is here nothing of Irish recklessness 
or humour; but there seems a settled obscurity in the soul, 
— a chill and plague, as if risen out of a sepulchre, which 
partly deadens, partly darkens, the eyes and hearts of men, 
and breathes a leprosy of decay through every breeze, and 
every stone. "Instead of well-set hair, baldness, and burning 
instead of beauty." . . . 

Of places subjected to such evil influence, none are quite 
so characteristic as the town of Sion in the Valais. ... It 
consists of little more than one main street, winding round 
the roots of two ridges of crag, and branching, on the side 
towards the rocks, into a few narrow lanes, on the other, 
into spaces of waste ground, of which part serve for military 
exercises, part are enclosed in an uncertain and vague way; 
a ditch half-filled up, or wall half-broken down, seeming to 
indicate their belonging, or having been intended to belong, 
to some of the unfinished houses which are springing up 
amidst their weeds. But it is difficult to say, in any part of 
the town, what is garden ground and what is waste; still 
more, what is new building and what old. The houses have 
been for the most part built roughly of the coarse limestone 
of the neighbouring hills, then coated with plaster, and 
painted, in imitation of Palladian palaces, with grey archi- 
traves and pilasters, having draperies from capital to capital. 
With this false decoration is curiously contrasted a great 
deal of graceful, honest, and original ironwork, in bulging 
balconies, and floreted gratings of huge windows, and 
branching sprays, for any and every purpose of support or 
guard. The plaster, with its fresco, has in most instances 
dropped away, leaving the houses peeled and scarred; 
daubed into uncertain restoration with new mortar, and in 
the best cases thus left; but commonly fallen also, more or 
less, into ruin, and either roofed over at the first story when 
the second has fallen, or hopelessly abandoned; — not pulled 



96 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

down, but left in white and ghastly shells to crumble into 
heaps of limestone and dust, a pauper or two still inhabiting 
where inhabitation is possible. The lanes wind among these 
ruins; the blue sky and mountain grass are seen through the 
windows of their rooms and over their partitions, on which 
old gaudy papers flaunt in rags: the weeds gather, and the 
dogs scratch about their foundations; yet there are no lux- 
uriant weeds, for their ragged leaves are blanched with lime, 
crushed under perpetually falling fragments, and worn away 
by listless standing of idle feet. There is always mason's 
work doing, always some fresh patching and whitening; a 
dull smell of mortar, mixed with that of stale foulness of 
every kind, rises with the dust, and defiles every current of 
air; the corners are filled with accumulations of stones, 
partly broken, with crusts of cement sticking to them, and 
blotches of nitre oozing out of their pores. The lichenous 
rocks and sunburnt slopes of grass stretch themselves hither 
and thither among the wreck; . . . the grass, in strange sym- 
pathy with the inhabitants, will not grow as grass, but 
chokes itself with a network of grey weeds, quite wonderful 
in their various expression of thorny discontent and savage- 
ness; the blue flower of the borage, which mingles with 
them in quantities, hardly interrupting their character, for 
the violent black spot in the centre of its blue takes away 
the tenderness of the flower, and it seems to have grown 
there in some supernatural mockery of its old renown of 
being good against melancholy. The rest of the herbage is 
chiefly composed of the dwarf mallow, the wild succory, the 
wall-rocket, goose-foot, and milfoil; plants, nearly all of 
them, jagged in the leaf, broken and dimly clustered in 
flower, haunters of waste ground and places of outcast 
refuse. . . . 

I know not how far this universal grasp of the sorrowful 
spirit might be relaxed if sincere energy were directed to 
amend the ways of life of the Valaisan. But it has always 
appeared to me that there was, even in more healthy moun- 
tain districts, a certain degree of inevitable melancholy; nor 



THE LANCE OF PALLAS 97 

could I ever escape from the feeling that here, where chiefly 
the beauty of God's working was manifested to men, warn- 
ing was also given, and that to the full, of the enduring of 
His indignation against sin. 

It seems one of the most cunning and frequent of self- 
deceptions to turn the heart away from this warning, and 
refuse to acknowledge anything in the fair scenes of the 
natural creation but beneficence. . . . And in this mountain 
gloom, which weighs so strongly upon the human heart that 
in all time hitherto, as we have seen, the hill defiles have 
been either avoided in terror or inhabited in penance, there 
is but the fulfilment of the universal law, that where the 
beauty and wisdom of the Divine working are most mani- 
fested, there also are manifested most clearly the terror of 
God's wrath, and inevitableness of His power. 

[Vol. IV, Part 5, Chap. 19] 

The Lance of Pallas 

All great art is the expression of man's delight in God's 
work, not in his own. But observe, he is not himself his own 
work: he is himself precisely the most wonderful piece of 
God's workmanship extant. In this best piece not only he 
is bound to take delight, but cannot, in a right state of 
thought, take delight in anything else, otherwise than 
through himself. Through himself, however, as the sun of 
creation, not as the creation. In himself, as the light of the 
world. Not as being the world. Let him stand in his due 
relation to other creatures, and to inanimate things — know 
them all and love them, as made for him, and he for them; 
— and he becomes himself the greatest and holiest of them. 
But let him cast off this relation, despise and forget the less 
creation round him, and instead of being the light of the 
world, he is a sun in space — a fiery ball, spotted with storm. 
All the diseases of mind leading to fatalest ruin consist 
primarily in this isolation. They are the concentration of 



98 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

man upon himself, whether his heavenly interests or his 
worldly interests, matters not; it is the being his own inter- 
ests which makes the regard of them so mortal. Every form 
of asceticism on one side, of sensualism on the other, is an 
isolation of his soul or of his body; the fixing his thoughts 
upon them alone; while every healthy state of nations and 
of individual minds consists in the unselfish presence of the 
human spirit everywhere, energizing over all things; speak- 
ing and living through all things. 

Man being thus the crowning and ruling work of God, it 
will follow that all his best art must have something to tell 
about himself, as the soul of things, and ruler of creatures. 
It must also make this reference to himself under a true 
conception of his own nature. Therefore all art which in- 
volves no reference to man is inferior or nugatory. And all 
art which involves misconception of man, or base thought 
of him, is in that degree false and base. 

Now the basest thought possible concerning him is, that 
he has no spiritual nature; and the foolishest misunder- 
standing of him possible is, that he has or should have, no 
animal nature. For his nature is nobly animal, nobly spir- 
itual — coherently and irrevocably so; neither part of it may, 
but at its peril, expel, despise, or defy the other. All great 
art confesses and worships both. 

The art which, since the writings of Rio and Lord Lind- 
say,* is specially known as "Christian," erred by pride in its 
denial of the animal nature of man; — and, in connection 
with all monkish and fanatical forms of religion, by looking 
always to another world instead of this. It wasted its strength 
in visions, and was therefore swept away, notwithstanding 
all its good and glory, by the strong truth of the naturalist 
art of the sixteenth century. But that naturalist art erred on 
the other side; denied at last the spiritual nature of man, 
and perished in corruption. . . . 

* Rio's De la poesie chretienne . . . was published in 1836, Lindsay's 
Sketches of the History of Christian Art in 1847. Ruskin frequently 
refers to Lindsay's work and learned much from it. 



THE LANCE OF PALLAS 99 

Perhaps an accurate analysis of the schools of art of all 
time might show us that when the immortality of the soul 
was practically and completely believed, the elements of 
decay, danger, and grief in visible things were always dis- 
regarded. However this may be, it is assuredly so in the 
early Christian schools. The ideas of danger or decay seem 
not merely repugnant, but inconceivable to them; the ex- 
pression of immortality and perpetuity is alone possible. I 
do not mean that they take no note of the absolute fact of 
corruption. This fact the early painters often compel them- 
selves to look fuller in the front than any other men: as in 
the way they usually paint the Deluge (the raven feeding on 
the bodies), and in all the various triumphs and processions 
of the power of Death, which formed one great chapter of 
religious teaching and painting, from Orcagna's time to the 
close of the Purist epoch. But I mean that this external fact 
of corruption is separated in their minds from the main 
conditions of their work; and its horror enters no more into 
their general treatment of landscape than the fear of mur- 
der or martyrdom, both of which they had nevertheless con- 
tinually to represent. None of these things appeared to them 
as affecting the general dealings of the Deity with His world. 
Death, pain, and decay were simply momentary accidents in 
the course of immortality, which never ought to exercise 
any depressing influence over the hearts of men, or in the 
life of Nature. God, in intense life, peace, and helping 
power, was always and everywhere. . . . 

It may perhaps be thought that this is a very high and 
right state of mind. 

Unfortunately, it appears that the attainment of it is 
never possible without inducing some form of intellectual 
weakness. 

No painter belonging to the purist religious schools ever 
mastered his art. Perugino nearly did so; but it was because 
he was more rational — more a man of the world — than the 
rest. No literature exists of a high class produced by minds 
in the pure religious temper. On the contrary, a great deal 



100 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

of literature exists, produced by persons in that temper, 
which is markedly, and very far, below average literary 
work. . . . That result indeed follows naturally enough on 
its habit of assuming that things must be right, or must 
come right, when, probably, the fact is, that so far as we are 
concerned, they are entirely wrong; and going wrong: and 
also on its weak and false way of looking on what these 
religious persons call "the bright side of things," that is to 
say, on one side of them only, when God has given them two 
sides, and intended us to see both. 

I was reading but the other day, in a book by a zealous, 
useful, and able Scotch clergyman, one of these rhapsodies, 
in which he described a scene in the Highlands to show (he 
said) the goodness of God. In this Highland scene there was 
nothing but sunshine, and fresh breezes, and bleating lambs, 
and clean tartans, and all manner of pleasantness. Now a 
Highland scene is, beyond dispute, pleasant enough in its 
own way; but, looked close at, has its shadows. Here, for 
instance, is the very fact of one, as pretty as I can remember 
— having seen many. It is a little valley of soft turf, en- 
closed in its narrow oval by jutting rocks and broad flakes of 
nodding fern. From one side of it to the other winds, serpen- 
tine, a clear brown stream, drooping into quicker ripple as 
it reaches the end of the oval field, and then, first islanding 
a purple and white rock with an amber pool, it dashes away 
into a narrow fall of foam under a thicket of mountain-ash 
and alder. The autumn sun, low but clear, shines on the 
scarlet ash-berries and on the golden birch-leaves, which, 
fallen here and there, when the breeze has not caught them, 
rest quiet in the crannies of the purple rock. Beside the 
rock, in the hollow under the thicket, the carcase of a ewe, 
drowned in the last flood, lies nearly bare to the bone, its 
white ribs protruding through the skin, raven-torn; and the 
rags of its wool still flickering from the branches that first 
stayed it as the stream swept it down. A little lower, the 
current plunges, roaring, into a circular chasm like a well, 
surrounded on three sides by a chimney-like hollowness of 



THE LANCE OF PALLAS 101 

polished rock, down which the foam slips in detached snow- 
flakes. Round the edges of the pool beneath, the water cir- 
cles slowly, like black oil; a little butterfly lies on its back, 
its wings glued to one of the eddies, its limbs feebly quiver- 
ing; a fish rises, and it is gone. Lower down the stream, I 
can just see over a knoll, the green and damp turf roofs of 
four or five hovels, built at the edge of a morass, which is 
trodden by the cattle into a black Slough of Despond at 
their doors, and traversed by a few ill-set stepping-stones, 
with here and there a flat slab on the tops, where they have 
sunk out of sight, and at the turn of the brook I see a man 
fishing, with a boy and a dog — a picturesque and pretty 
group enough certainly, if they had not been there all day 
starving. I know them, and I know the dog's ribs also, which 
are nearly as bare as the dead ewe's; and the child's wasted 
shoulders, cutting his old tartan jacket through, so sharp 
are they. . . . 

Truly, this Highland and English hill-scenery is fair 
enough; but has its shadows; and deeper colouring, here 
and there, than that of heath and rose. 

Now, as far as I have watched the main powers of human 
mind, they have risen first from the resolution to see fear- 
lessly, pitifully, and to its very worst, what these deep colours 
mean, wheresoever they fall; not by any means to pass on the 
other side, looking pleasantly up to the sky, but to stoop 
to the horror, and let the sky, for the present, take care of its 
own clouds. However this may be in moral matters, with 
which I have nothing here to do, in my own field of inquiry 
the fact is so; and all great and beautiful work has come of 
first gazing without shrinking into the darkness. If, having 
done so, the human spirit can, by its courage and faith, con- 
quer the evil, it rises into conceptions of victorious and con- 
summated beauty. It is then the spirit of the highest Greek 
and Venetian Art. If unable to conquer the evil, but re- 
maining in strong though melancholy war with it, not rising 
into supreme beauty, it is the spirit of the best northern art, 
typically represented by that of Holbein and Diirer. If, itself 



102 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

conquered by the evil, infected by the dragon breath of it, 
and at last brought into captivity, so as to take delight in 
evil for ever, it becomes the spirit of the dark, but still 
powerful sensualistic art, represented typically by that of 
Salvator. We must trace this fact briefly through Greek, 
Venetian, and Diireresque art; we shall then see how the 
art of decline came of avoiding the evil, and seeking pleas- 
ure only; and thus obtain, at last, some power of judging 
whether the tendency of our own contemplative art be right 
or ignoble. 

The ruling purpose of Greek poetry is the assertion of 
victory, by heroism, over fate, sin, and death. The terror of 
these great enemies is dwelt upon chiefly by the tragedians. 
The victory over them, by Homer. 

The adversary chiefly contemplated by the tragedians is 
Fate, or predestinate misfortune. And that under three 
principal forms. 

(a) Blindness or ignorance; not in itself guilty, but in- 
ducing acts which otherwise would have been guilty; and 
leading, no less than guilt, to destruction. 

(b) Visitation upon one person of the sin of another. 

(c) Repression by brutal, or tyrannous strength, of a be- 
nevolent will. 

In all these cases sorrow is much more definitely con- 
nected with sin by the Greek tragedians than by Shakspere. 
The "fate" of Shakspere is, indeed, a form of blindness, but 
it issues in little more than haste or indiscretion. It is, in the 
literal sense, "fatal," but hardly criminal. 

The "I am fortune's fool" of Romeo, expresses Shakspere's 
primary idea of tragic circumstance. Often his victims are 
entirely innocent, swept away by mere current of strong en- 
compassing calamity (Ophelia, Cordelia, Arthur, Queen 
Katherine). This is rarely so with the Greeks. The victim 
may indeed be innocent, as Antigone, but is in some way 
resolutely entangled with crime, and destroyed by it, as if 
it struck by pollution, no less than participation. 

The victory over sin and death is therefore also with the 



\ 



THE LANCE OF PALLAS 103 



Greek tragedians more complete than with Shakspere. As 
the enemy has more direct moral personality, — as it is sin- 
fulness more than mischance, it is met by a higher moral 
resolve, a greater preparation of heart, a more solemn pa- 
tience and purposed self-sacrifice. At the close of a Shak- 
spere tragedy, nothing remains but dead march and clothes 
of burial. At the close of a Greek tragedy there are far-off 
sounds of a divine triumph, and a glory as of resurrection.* 

The Homeric temper is wholly different. Far more tender, 
more practical, more cheerful; bent chiefly on present things 
and giving victory now, and here, rather than in hope, and 
hereafter. The enemies of mankind, in Homer's conception, 
are more distinctly conquerable; they are ungoverned pas- 
sions, especially anger, and unreasonable impulse generally 
(arri). Hence the anger of Achilles, misdirected by pride, but 
rightly directed by friendship, is the subject of the Iliad. The 
anger of Ulysses ('OSwo-evs, "the angry"), misdirected at first 
into idle and irregular hostilities, directed at last to execu- 
tion of sternest justice, is the subject of the Odyssey. 

Though this is the central idea of the two poems, it is 
connected with general display of the evil of all unbridled 
passions, pride, sensuality, indolence, or curiosity. The pride 
of Atrides, the passion of Paris, the sluggishness of Elpenor, 
the curiosity of Ulysses himself about the Cyclops, the im- 
patience of his sailors in untying the winds, and all other 
faults or follies down to that — (evidently no small one in 
Homer's mind) — of domestic disorderliness, are throughout 
shown in contrast with conditions of patient affection and 
household peace. 

Also, the wild powers and mysteries of Nature are in the 
Homeric mind among the enemies of man; so that all the 
labours of Ulysses are an expression of the contest of man- 
hood, not only with its own passions or with the folly of 
others, but with the merciless and mysterious powers of the 
natural world. 

# The Alcestis is perhaps the central example of the idea of all Greek 
drama. [Ruskin's note.] 



104 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

This is perhaps the chief signification of the seven years' 
stay with Calypso, "the concealer." Not, as vulgarly thought, 
the concealer of Ulysses, but the great concealer — the hid- 
den power of natural things. She is the daughter of Atlas 
and the Sea (Atlas, the sustainer of heaven, and the Sea, the 
disturber of the Earth). She dwells in the island of Ogygia 
("the ancient or venerable"). (Whenever Athens, or any 
other Greek city, is spoken of with any peculiar reverence, 
it is called "Ogygian.") Escaping from this goddess of secrets, 
and from other spirits, some of destructive natural force 
(Scylla), others signifying the enchantment of mere natural 
beauty (Circe, daughter of the Sun and Sea), he arrives at 
last at the Phaeacian land, whose king is "strength with in- 
tellect," and whose queen "virtue." These restore him to 
his country. 

Now observe that in their dealing with all these subjects 
the Greeks never shrink from horror; down to its uttermost 
depth, to its most appalling physical detail, they strive to 
sound the secrets of sorrow. For them there is no passing by 
on the other side, no turning away the eyes to vanity from 
pain. Literally, they have not "lifted up their souls unto 
vanity." Whether there be consolation for them or not, 
neither apathy nor blindness shall be their saviour; if, for 
them, thus knowing the facts of the grief of earth, any hope, 
relief, or triumph may hereafter seem possible, — well; but if 
not, still hopeless, reliefless, eternal, the sorrow shall be met 
face to face. This Hector, so righteous, so merciful, so brave, 
has, nevertheless, to look upon his dearest brother in miser- 
ablest death. His own soul passes away in hopeless sobs 
through the throat-wound of the Grecian spear. That is one 
aspect of things in this world, a fair world truly, but having, 
among its other aspects, this one, highly ambiguous. 

Meeting it boldly as they may, gazing right into the skele- 
ton face of it, the ambiguity remains; nay, in some sort gains 
upon them. We trusted in the gods; — we thought that wis- 
dom and courage would save us. Our wisdom and courage 
themselves deceive us to our death. Athena had the aspect 



THE LANCE OF PALLAS 105 

of Deiphobus — terror of the enemy. She has not terrified 
him, but left us, in our mortal need.* 

And beyond that mortality, what hope have we? Nothing 
is clear to us on that horizon, nor comforting. Funeral hon- 
ours; perhaps also rest; perhaps a shadowy life — artless, joy- 
less, loveless. No devices in that darkness of the grave, nor 
daring, nor delight. Neither marrying nor giving in mar- 
riage, nor casting of spears, nor rolling of chariots, nor voice 
of fame. Lapped in pale Elysian mist, chilling the forgetful 
heart and feeble frame, shall we waste on for ever? Can the 
dust of earth claim more of immortality than this? Or shall 
we have even so much as rest? May we, indeed, lie down 
again in the dust: or have not our sins hidden from us even 
the things that belong to that peace? May not chance and 
the whirl of passion govern us there: when there shall be no 
thought, nor work, nor wisdom, nor breathing of the soul? 

Be it so. With no better reward, no brighter hope, we 
will be men while we may: men, just, and strong, and fear- 
less, and up to our power, perfect. Athena herself, our wis- 
dom and our strength, may betray us: — Phoebus, our sun, 
smite us with plague, or hide his face from us helpless; — 
Jove and all the powers of fate oppress us, or give us up to 
destruction. While we live, we will hold fast our integrity; 
no weak tears shall blind us, no untimely tremors abate our 
strength of arm nor swiftness of limb. The gods have given 
us at least this glorious body and this righteous conscience; 
these will we keep bright and pure to the end. So may we 
fall to misery, but not to baseness; so may we sink to sleep, 
but not to shame. 

And herein was conquest. So defied, the betraying and 
accusing shadows shrank back; the mysterious horror sub- 
dued itself to majestic sorrow. Death was swallowed up in 
victory. Their blood, which seemed to be poured out upon 

* In the Iliad, xxii, Pallas Athena appears to Hector in the guise of 
his brother, Deiphobus. She treacherously leads him into battle against 
Achilles, then deserts him, having handed to Achilles the "lance of 
Pallas" with which he slays Hector. 



106 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

the ground, rose into hyacinthine flowers. All the beauty of 
earth opened to them; they had ploughed into its darkness, 
and they reaped its gold; the gods, in whom they had trusted 
through all semblance of oppression, came down to love 
them and be their helpmates. All nature round them be- 
came divine, — one harmony of power and peace. The sun 
hurt them not by day, nor the moon by night; the earth 
opened no more her jaws into the pit; the sea whitened no 
more against them the teeth of his devouring waves. Sun, 
and moon, and earth, and sea, — all melted into grace and 
love; the fatal arrows rang not now at the shoulders of 
Apollo, the healer; lord of life, and of the three great spirits 
of life — Care, Memory, and Melody. Great Artemis guarded 
their flocks by night; Selene kissed in love the eyes of those 
who slept. And from all came the help of heaven to body 
and soul; a strange spirit lifting the lovely limbs; strange 
light glowing on the golden hair; and strangest comfort 
filling the trustful heart, so that they could put off their 
armour, and lie down to sleep, — their work well done, 
whether at the gates of their temples or of their mountains; 
accepting the death they once thought terrible, as the gift 
of Him who knew and granted what was best. 

[Vol. V, Part 9, Chap. 2] 

The Two Boyhoods 

Born half-way between the mountains and the sea — that 
young George of Castelfranco — of the Brave Castle: — Stout 
George they called him, George of Georges, so goodly a boy 
he was— Giorgione. 

Have you ever thought what a world his eyes opened on 
— fair, searching eyes of youth? What a world of mighty 
life, from those mountain roots to the shore; — of loveliest 
life, when he went down, yet so young, to the marble city 
— and became himself as a fiery heart to it? 

A city of marble, did I say? nay, rather a golden city, 



THE TWO BOYHOODS 107 

paved with emerald. For truly, every pinnacle and turret 
glanced or glowed, overlaid with gold, or bossed with jasper. 
Beneath, the unsullied sea drew in deep breathing, to and 
fro, its eddies of green wave. Deep-hearted, majestic, terrible 
as the sea, — the men of Venice moved in sway of power and 
war; pure as her pillars of alabaster, stood her mothers and 
maidens; from foot to brow, all noble, walked her knights; 
the low bronzed gleaming of sea-rusted armour shot angrily 
under their blood-red mantle-folds. Fearless, faithful, pa- 
tient, impenetrable, implacable, — every word a fate — sate 
her senate. In hope and honour, lulled by flowing of wave 
around their isles of sacred sand, each with his name written 
and the cross graved at his side, lay her dead. A wonderful 
piece of world. Rather, itself a world. It lay along the face of 
the waters, no larger, as its captains saw it from their masts 
at evening, than a bar of sunset that could not pass away; 
but for its power, it must have seemed to them as if they 
were sailing in the expanse of heaven, and this a great 
planet, whose orient edge widened through ether. A world 
from which all ignoble care and petty thoughts were ban- 
ished, with all the common and poor elements of life. No 
foulness, nor tumult, in those tremulous streets, that filled, 
or fell, beneath the moon; but rippled music of majestic 
change, or thrilling silence. No weak walls could rise above 
them; no low-roofed cottage, nor straw-built shed. Only the 
strength as of rock, and the finished setting of stones most 
precious. And around them, far as the eye could reach, still 
the soft moving of stainless waters; proudly pure; as not 
the flower, so neither the thorn nor the thistle, could grow 
in the glancing fields. Ethereal strength of Alps, dreamlike, 
vanishing in high procession beyond the Torcellan shore; 
blue islands of Paduan hills, poised in the golden west. 
Above, free winds and fiery clouds ranging at their will; — 
brightness out of the north, and balm from the south, and 
the stars of the evening and morning clear in the limitless 
light of arched heaven and circling sea. 

Such was Giorgione's school — such Titian's home. 



108 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Near the south-west corner of Covent Garden, a square 
brick pit or well is formed by a close-set block of houses, to 
the back windows of which it admits a few rays of light. 
Access to the bottom of it is obtained out of Maiden Lane, 
through a low archway and an iron gate; and if you stand 
long enough under the archway to accustom your eyes to 
the darkness you may see on the left hand a narrow door, 
which formerly gave quiet access to a respectable barber's 
shop, of which the front window, looking into Maiden Lane, 
is still extant, filled, in this year (1860), with a row of bottles, 
connected, in some defunct manner, with a brewer's busi- 
ness. A more fashionable neighbourhood, it is said, eighty 
years ago than now — never certainly a cheerful one — wherein 
a boy being born on St. George's day, 1775, began soon after 
to take interest in the world of Covent Garden, and put to 
service such spectacles of life as it afforded. 

No knights to be seen there, nor, I imagine, many beauti- 
ful ladies; their costume at least disadvantageous, depending 
much on incumbency of hat and feather, and short waists; 
the majesty of men founded similarly on shoebuckles and 
wigs; — impressive enough when Reynolds will do his best 
for it; but not suggestive of much ideal delight to a boy. 

"Bello ovile dov' io dormii agnello";* of things beautiful, 
besides men and women, dusty sunbeams up or down the 
street on summer mornings; deep furrowed cabbage-leaves 
at the greengrocer's; magnificence of oranges in wheelbar- 
rows round the corner; and Thames' shore within three 
minutes' race. 

None of these things very glorious; the best, however, that 
England, it seems, was then able to provide for a boy of gift: 
who, such as they are, loves them — never, indeed, forgets 
them. The short waists modify to the last his visions of 
Greek ideal. His foregrounds had always a succulent cluster 
or two of greengrocery at the corners. Enchanted oranges 

* Dante's allusion to Florence, Paradiso, xxv, 5: "From the fair sheep- 
fold wherein I used to sleep, a lamb." 



THE TWO BOYHOODS 109 

gleam in Coven t Gardens of the Hesperides; and great ships 
go to pieces in order to scatter chests of them on the waves. 
That mist of early sunbeams in the London dawn crosses, 
many and many a time, the clearness of Italian air; and by 
Thames' shore, with its stranded barges and glidings of red 
sail, dearer to us than Lucerne lake or Venetian lagoon, — 
by Thames' shore we will die. 

With such circumstance round him in youth, let us note 
what necessary effects followed upon the boy. I assume him 
to have had Giorgione's sensibility (and more than Gior- 
gione's, if that be possible) to colour and form. I tell you 
farther, and this fact you may receive trustfully, that his 
sensibility to human affection and distress was no less keen 
than even his sense for natural beauty — heart-sight deep as 
eyesight. 

Consequently, he attaches himself with the faithfullest 
child-love to everything that bears an image of the place he 
was born in. No matter how ugly it is, — has it anything 
about it like Maiden Lane, or like Thames' shore? If so, it 
shall be painted for their sake. Hence, to the very close of 
life, Turner could endure ugliness which no one else, of the 
same sensibility, would have borne with for an instant. 
Dead brick walls, blank square windows, old clothes, market- 
womanly types of humanity — anything fishy and muddy, 
like Billingsgate or Hungerford Market, had great attraction 
for him; black barges, patched sails, and every possible con- 
dition of fog. 

You will find these tolerations and affections guiding or 
sustaining him to the last hour of his life; the notablest of 
all such endurances being that of dirt. No Venetian ever 
draws anything foul; but Turner devoted picture after pic- 
ture to the illustration of effects of dinginess, smoke, soot, 
dust, and dusty texture; old sides of boats, weedy roadside 
vegetation, dung-hills, straw-yards, and all the soilings and 
stains of every common labour. 

And more than this, he not only could endure, but en- 



110 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

joyed and looked for litter, like Covent Garden wreck after 
the market. His pictures are often full of it, from side to 
side; their foregrounds differ from all others in the natural 
way that things have of lying about in them. Even his richest 
vegetation, in ideal work, is confused; and he delights in 
shingle, debris, and heaps of fallen stones. The last words he 
ever spoke to me about a picture were in gentle exultation 
about his St. Gothard: "that litter of stones which I en- 
deavoured to represent." 

The second great result of this Covent Garden training 
was, understanding of and regard for the poor, whom the 
Venetians, we saw, despised; whom, contrarily, Turner 
loved, and more than loved — understood. He got no ro- 
mantic sight of them, but an infallible one, as he prowled 
about the end of his lane, watching night effects in the 
wintry streets; nor sight of the poor alone, but of the poor 
in direct relations with the rich. He knew, in good and evil, 
what both classes thought of, and how they dealt with, each 
other. 

Reynolds and Gainsborough, bred in country villages, 
learned there the country boy's reverential theory of "the 
squire," and kept it. They painted the squire and the squire's 
lady as centres of the movements of the universe, to the end 
of their lives. But Turner perceived the younger squire in 
other aspects about his lane, occurring prominently in its 
night scenery, as a dark figure, or one of two, against the 
moonlight. He saw also the working of city commerce, from 
endless warehouse, towering over Thames, to the back shop 
in the lane, with its stale herrings — highly interesting these 
last; one of his father's best friends, whom he often after- 
wards visited affectionately at Bristol, being a fishmonger 
and glue-boiler; which gives us a friendly turn of mind to- 
wards herring-fishing, whaling, Calais poissardes, and many 
other of our choicest subjects in after-life; all this being con- 
nected with that mysterious forest below London Bridge on 
one side; and, on the other, with these masses of human 
power and national wealth which weigh upon us, at Covent 



THE TWO BOYHOODS 111 

Garden here, with strange compression, and crush us into 
narrow Hand Court. 

"That mysterious forest below London Bridge" better 
for the boy than wood of pine, or grove of myrtle. How he 
must have tormented the watermen, beseeching them to let 
him crouch anywhere in the bows, quiet as a log, so only 
that he might get floated down there among the ships, and 
round and round the ships, and with the ships, and by the 
ships, and under the ships, staring, and clambering; — these 
the only quite beautiful things he can see in all the world, 
except the sky; but these, when the sun is on their sails, 
filling or falling, endlessly disordered by sway of tide and 
stress of anchorage, beautiful unspeakably; which ships also 
are inhabited by glorious creatures — red-faced sailors, with 
pipes, appearing over the gunwales, true knights, over their 
castle parapets — the most angelic beings in the whole com- 
pass of London world. And Trafalgar happening long be- 
fore we can draw ships, we, nevertheless, coax all current 
stories out of the wounded sailors, do our best at present to 
show Nelson's funeral streaming up the Thames; and vow 
that Trafalgar shall have its tribute of memory some day. 
Which, accordingly, is accomplished — once, with all our 
might, for its death; twice, with all our might, for its vic- 
tory; thrice, in pensive farewell to the old Temeraire, and 
with it, to that order of things. 

Now this fond companying with sailors must have divided 
his time, it appears to me, pretty equally between Co vent 
Garden and Wapping (allowing for incidental excursions 
to Chelsea on one side, and Greenwich on the other), which 
time he would spend pleasantly, but not magnificently, being 
limited in pocket-money, and leading a kind of "Poor Jack" 
life on the river. 

In some respects, no life could be better for a lad. But it 
was not calculated to make his ear fine to the niceties of 
language, nor form his moralities on an entirely regular 
standard. Picking up his first scraps of vigorous English 
chiefly at Deptford and in the markets, and his first ideas 



112 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

of female tenderness and beauty among nymphs of the 
barge and the barrow, — another boy might, perhaps, have 
become what people usually term "vulgar." But the original 
make and frame of Turner's mind being not vulgar, but as 
nearly as possible a combination of the minds of Keats and 
Dante, joining capricious waywardness, and intense open- 
ness to every fine pleasure of sense, and hot defiance of for- 
mal precedent, with a quite infinite tenderness, generosity, 
and desire of justice and truth — this kind of mind did not 
become vulgar, but very tolerant of vulgarity, even fond of 
it in some forms; and on the outside, visibly infected by it, 
deeply enough; the curious result, in its combination of ele- 
ments, being to most people wholly incomprehensible. It 
was as if a cable had been woven of blood-crimson silk, and 
then tarred on the outside. People handled it, and the tar 
came off on their hands; red gleams were seen through the 
black underneath, at the places where it had been strained. 
Was it ochre? — said the world — or red lead? 

Schooled thus in manners, literature, and the general 
moral principles at Chelsea and Wapping, we have finally 
to inquire concerning the most important point of all. We 
have seen the principal differences between this boy and 
Giorgione, as respects sight of the beautiful, understanding 
of poverty, of commerce, and of order of battle; then fol- 
lows another cause of difference in our training — not slight, 
— the aspect of religion, namely, in the neighbourhood of 
Covent Garden. I say the aspect; for that was all the lad 
could judge by. Disposed, for the most part, to learn chiefly 
by his eyes, in this special matter he finds there is really no 
other way of learning. His father had taught him "to lay one 
penny upon another." Of Mother's teaching, we hear of 
none; of parish pastoral teaching, the reader may guess how 
much. 

I chose Giorgione rather than Veronese to help me in 
carrying out this parallel; because I do not find in Gior- 
gione's work any of the early Venetian monarchist element. 
He seems to me to have belonged more to an abstract con- 



THE TWO BOYHOODS 113 

templative school. I may be wrong in this; it is no matter; — 
suppose it were so, and that he came down to Venice some- 
what recusant or insentient, concerning the usual priestly 
doctrines of his day, how would the Venetian religion, from 
an outer intellectual standing-point, have looked to him? 

He would have seen it to be a religion indisputably power- 
ful in human affairs; often very harmfully so; sometimes 
devouring widows' houses, and consuming the strongest and 
fairest from among the young: freezing into merciless big- 
otry the policy of the old: also, on the other hand, animating 
national courage, and raising souls, otherwise sordid, into 
heroism: on the whole, always a real and great power; served 
with daily sacrifice of gold, time, and thought; putting forth 
its claims, if hypocritically, at least in bold hypocrisy, not 
waiving any atom of them in doubt or fear; and, assuredly, 
in large measure, sincere, believing in itself, and believed: 
a goodly system, moreover, in aspect; gorgeous, harmonious, 
mysterious; — a thing which had either to be obeyed or com- 
bated, but could not be scorned. A religion towering over 
all the city — many-buttressed — luminous in marble stateli- 
ness, as the dome of our Lady of Safety shines over the sea; 
many-voiced, also, giving, over all the eastern seas, to the 
sentinel his watchword, to the soldier his war-cry; and, on 
the lips of all who died for Venice, shaping the whisper of 
death. 

I suppose the boy Turner to have regarded the religion of 
his city also from an external intellectual standing-point. 

What did he see in Maiden Lane? 

Let not the reader be offended with me: I am willing to 
let him describe, at his own pleasure, what Turner saw 
there; but to me, it seems to have been this. A religion main- 
tained occasionally, even the whole length of the lane, at 
point of constable's staff; but, at other times, placed under 
the custody of the beadle, within certain black and unstately 
iron railings of St. Paul's, Covent Garden. Among the wheel- 
barrows and over the vegetables, no perceptible dominance 
of religion; in the narrow, disquieted streets, none; in the 



114 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

tongues, deeds, daily ways of Maiden Lane, little. Some hon- 
esty, indeed, and English industry, and kindness of heart, 
and general idea of justice; but faith, of any national kind, 
shut up from one Sunday to the next, not artistically beauti- 
ful even in those Sabbatical exhibitions; its paraphernalia 
being chiefly of high pews, heavy elocution, and cold grim- 
ness of behaviour. 

What chiaroscuro belongs to it — (dependent mostly on 
candlelight), — we will, however, draw, considerately; no 
goodliness of escutcheon, nor other respectability being 
omitted, and the best of their results confessed, a meek old 
woman and a child being let into a pew, for whom the read- 
ing by candlelight will be beneficial.* 

For the rest, this religion seems to him discreditable — 
discredited — not believing in itself: putting forth its author- 
ity in a cowardly way, watching how far it might be toler- 
ated, continually shrinking, disclaiming, fencing, finessing; 
divided against itself, not by stormy rents, but by thin fis- 
sures, and splittings of plaster from the walls. Not to be 
either obeyed, or combated, by an ignorant, yet clear-sighted 
youth! only to be scorned. And scorned not one whit the 
less, though also the dome dedicated to it looms high over 
distant winding of the Thames; as St. Mark's campanile 
rose, for goodly landmark, over mirage of lagoon. For St. 
Mark ruled over life; the Saint of London over death; St. 
Mark over St. Mark's Place, but St. Paul over St. Paul's 
Churchyard. 

Under these influences pass away the first reflective hours 
of life, with such conclusion as they can reach. In conse- 
quence of a fit of illness, he was taken — I cannot ascertain 
in what year — to live with an aunt, at Brentford; and here, 
I believe, received some schooling, which he seems to have 

* Liber Studiorum. "Interior of a church." It is worthy of remark that 
Giorgione and Titian are always delighted to have an opportunity of 
drawing priests. The English Church may, perhaps, accept it as matter 
of congratulation that this is the only instance in which Turner drew a 
clergyman. [Ruskin's note.] 



THE TWO BOYHOODS 115 

snatched vigorously; getting knowledge, at least by transla- 
tion, of the more picturesque classical authors, which he 
turned presently to use, as we shall see. Hence also, walks 
about Putney and Twickenham in the summer time ac- 
quainted him with the look of English meadow-ground in 
its restricted states of paddock and park; and with some 
round-headed appearances of trees, and stately entrances 
to houses of mark: the avenue at Bushey, and the iron gates 
and carved pillars of Hampton, impressing him apparently 
with great awe and admiration; so that in after-life his little 
country house is, — of all places in the world, — at Twicken- 
ham! Of swans and reedy shores he now learns the soft mo- 
tion and the green mystery, in a way not to be forgotten. 

And at last fortune wills that the lad's true life shall be- 
gin; and one summer's evening, after various wonderful 
stage-coach experiences on the north road, which gave him 
a love of stage-coaches ever after, he finds himself sitting 
alone among the Yorkshire hills. For the first time, the 
silence of Nature round him, her freedom sealed to him, 
her glory opened to him. Peace at last; no roll of cart-wheel, 
nor mutter of sullen voices in the back shop; but curlew-cry 
in space of heaven, and welling of bell-toned streamlet by 
its shadowy rock. Freedom at last. Dead-wall, dark railing, 
fenced field, gated garden, all passed away like the dream of 
a prisoner; and behold, far as foot or eye can race or range, 
the moor, and cloud. Loveliness at last. It is here then, 
among these deserted vales! Not among men. Those pale, 
poverty-struck, or cruel faces; — that multitudinous, marred 
humanity — are not the only things that God has made. Here 
is something He has made which no one has marred. Pride 
of purple rocks, and river pools of blue, and tender wilder- 
ness of glittering trees, and misty lights of evening on im- 
measurable hills. 

Beauty, and freedom, and peace; and yet another teacher, 
graver than these. Sound preaching at last here, in Kirkstall 
crypt, concerning fate and life. Here, where the dark pool 



116 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

reflects the chancel pillars, and the cattle lie in unhindered 
rest, the soft sunshine on their dappled bodies, instead of 
priests' vestments; their white furry hair ruffled a little, fit- 
fully, by the evening wind deep-scented from the meadow 
thyme. 

Consider deeply the import to him of this, his first sight 
of ruin, and compare it with the effect of the architecture 
that was around Giorgione. There were indeed aged build- 
ings, at Venice, in his time, but none in decay. All ruin was 
removed, and its place filled as quickly as in our London; 
but filled always by architecture loftier and more wonderful 
than that whose place it took, the boy himself happy to work 
upon the walls of it; so that the idea of the passing away of 
the strength of men and beauty of their works never could 
occur to him sternly. Brighter and brighter the cities of Italy 
had been rising and broadening on hill and plain, for three 
hundred years. He saw only strength and immortality, could 
not but paint both; conceived the form of man as deathless, 
calm with power, and fiery with life. 

Turner saw the exact reverse of this. In the present work 
of men, meanness, aimlessness, unsightliness: thin- walled, 
lath-divided, narrow-garreted houses of clay; booths of a 
darksome Vanity Fair, busily base. 

But on Whitby Hill, and by Bolton Brook, remained 
traces of other handiwork. Men who could build had been 
there; and who also had wrought, not merely for their own 
days. But to what purpose? Strong faith, and steady hands, 
and patient souls — can this, then, be all you have left? this 
the sum of your doing on the earth; — a nest whence the 
night-owl may whimper to the brook, and a ribbed skeleton 
of consumed arches, looming above the bleak banks of mist, 
from its cliff to the sea? 

As the strength of men to Giorgione, to Turner their 
weakness and vileness, were alone visible. They themselves, 
unworthy or ephemeral; their work, despicable, or decayed. 
In the Venetian's eyes, all beauty depended on man's pres- 



THE TWO BOYHOODS 117 

ence and pride; in Turner's, on the solitude he had left, and 
the humiliation he had suffered. 

And thus the fate and issue of all his work were deter- 
mined at once. He must be a painter of the strength of na- 
ture, there was no beauty elsewhere than in that; he must 
paint also the labour and sorrow and passing away of men: 
this was the great human truth visible to him. 

Their labour, their sorrow, and their death. Mark the 
three. Labour; by sea and land, in field and city, at forge and 
furnace, helm and plough. No pastoral indolence nor classic 
pride shall stand between him and the troubling of the 
world; still less between him and the toil of his country, — 
blind, tormented, unwearied, marvellous England. 

Also their Sorrow; Ruin of all their glorious work, pass- 
ing away of their thoughts and their honour, mirage of pleas- 
ure, Fallacy of Hope;* gathering of weed on temple step; 
gaining of wave on deserted strand; weeping of the mother 
for the children, desolate by her breathless first-born in the 
streets of the city, desolate by her last sons slain, among the 
beasts of the field. 

And their Death. That old Greek question again; — yet 
unanswered. The unconquerable spectre still flitting among 
the forest trees at twilight; rising ribbed out of the sea-sand; 
— white, a strange Aphrodite, — out of the sea-foam; stretch- 
ing its gray, cloven wings among the clouds; turning the 
light of their sunsets into blood. This has to be looked upon, 
and in a more terrible shape than ever Salvator or Durer saw 
it. The wreck of one guilty country does not infer the ruin 
of all countries, and need not cause general terror respecting 
the laws of the universe. Neither did the orderly and nar- 
row succession of domestic joy and sorrow in a small Ger- 
man community bring the question in its breadth, or in any 

* The title of Turner's manuscript collection of poems, which he often 
quoted in the catalogue description of his paintings. Ruskin alludes, 
at the end of this paragraph, to Turner's Tenth Plague of Egypt and 
Rizpah. 



118 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

unresolvable shape, before the mind of Dtirer. But the Eng- 
lish death — the European death of the nineteenth century 
- — was of another range and power; more terrible a thousand- 
fold in its merely physical grasp and grief; more terrible, 
incalculably, in its mystery and shame. What were the rob- 
ber's casual pang, or the range of the flying skirmish, com- 
pared to the work of the axe, and the sword, and the famine, 
which was done during this man's youth on all the hills and 
plains of the Christian earth, from Moscow to Gibraltar? 
He was eighteen years old when Napoleon came down on 
Areola. Look on the map of Europe and count the blood- 
stains on it, between Areola and Waterloo. 

Not alone those blood-stains on the Alpine snow, and the 
blue of the Lombard plain. The English death was before 
his eyes also. No decent, calculable, consoled dying; no pass- 
ing to rest like that of the aged burghers of Nuremberg town. 
No gentle processions to churchyards among the fields, the 
bronze crests bossed deep on the memorial tablets, and the 
skylark singing above them from among the corn. But the 
life trampled out in the slime of the street, crushed to dust 
amidst the roaring of the wheel, tossed countlessly away into 
howling winter wind along five hundred leagues of rock- 
fanged shore. Or, worst of all, rotted down to forgotten 
graves through years of ignorant patience, and vain seeking 
for help from man, for hope in God — infirm, imperfect 
yearning, as of motherless infants starving at the dawn; op- 
pressed royalties of captive thought, vague ague-fits of bleak, 
amazed despair. 

A goodly landscape this, for the lad to paint, and under 
a goodly light. Wide enough the light was, and clear; no 
more Salvator's lurid chasm on jagged horizon, nor Diirer's 
spotted rest of sunny gleam on hedgerow and field; but light 
over all the world. Full shone now its awful globe, one pallid 
charnel-house, — a ball strewn bright with human ashes, 
glaring in poised sway beneath the sun, all blinding-white 
with death from pole to pole, — death, not of myriads of poor 
bodies only, but of will, and mercy, and conscience; death, 



EPILOGUE 119 

not once inflicted on the flesh, but daily fastening on the 
spirit; death, not silent or patient, waiting his appointed 
hour, but voiceful, venomous; death with the taunting word, 
and burning grasp, and infixed sting. 

"Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe."* The word is 
spoken in our ears continually to other reapers than the 
angels, — to the busy skeletons that never tire for stooping. 
When the measure of iniquity is full, and it seems that an- 
other day might bring repentance and redemption, — "Put 
ye in the sickle." When the young life has been wasted all 
away, and the eyes are just opening upon the tracks of ruin, 
and the faint resolution rising in the heart for nobler things, 
— "Put ye in the sickle." When the roughest blows of for- 
tune have been borne long and bravely, and the hand is 
just stretched to grasp its goal, — "Put ye in the sickle." And 
when there are but a few in the midst of a nation, to save 
it, or to teach, or to cherish; and all its life is bound up in 
those few golden ears, — "Put ye in the sickle, pale reapers, 
and pour hemlock for your feast of harvest home." 

This was the sight which opened on the young eyes, this 
the watchword sounding within the heart of Turner in his 
youth. 

So taught, and prepared for his life's labour, sate the boy 
at last alone among his fair English hills; and began to paint, 
with cautious toil, the rocks, and fields, and trickling brooks, 
and soft white clouds of heaven. [Vol. V, Part 9, Chap. 9] 



Epilogue 

, . . All that is involved in these passionate utterances of my 
youth was first expanded and then concentrated into the 
aphorism given twenty years afterwards in my inaugural 
Oxford lectures, "All great Art is Praise"; and on that apho- 
rism, the yet bolder saying founded, "So far from Art's being 

* Joel 3:13. The subsequent allusions are to Revelations 14:14-20 and, 
possibly, to Hosea 10:4. 



120 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

immoral, in the ultimate power of it, nothing but Art is 
moral: Life without Industry is sin, and Industry without 
Art, brutality" (I forget the words, but that is their purport): 
and now, in writing beneath the cloudless peace of the snows 
of Chamouni, what must be the really final words of the 
book which their beauty inspired and their strength guided, 
I am able, with yet happier and calmer heart than ever here- 
tofore, to enforce its simplest assurance of Faith, that the 
knowledge of what is beautiful leads on, and is the first step, 
to the knowledge of the things which are lovely and of good 
report; and that the laws, the life, and the joy of beauty in 
the material world of God, are as eternal and sacred parts of 
His creation as, in the world of spirits, virtue; and in the 
world of angels, praise. 

Chamouni, 
Sunday, September 16th, 1888. 



Architecture 



Ruskin once complained of having great difficulty pre- 
venting the seven lamps of architecture from growing into 
eight or nine. But he was unusually successful; The Seven 
Lamps of Architecture is one of his briefest and best organ- 
ized books. He did most of his research in the churches of 
Normandy in the autumn of 1848, shortly after his mar- 
riage to Euphemia Gray. The tensions of their marriage 
were already apparent, but they were reflected in his writing 
only in the uncharacteristic dispatch with which he com- 
pleted the book the following spring. 

The Seven Lamps has long been among the most popular 
of Ruskin's works. Frank Lloyd Wright read it during his 
early years, and it unquestionably played a formative role, 
along with The Stones of Venice, in shaping his conception 
of "Organic Architecture." Ruskin is Wright's link to the 
aesthetic of Nature, that love of "organic forms" which 
Ruskin saw carved in the weathered capitals of Normandy; 
Wright has made Ruskin important to an understanding 
of the architecture of today. 

That Ruskin exerted such an influence is surprising in 
view of his advocacy of Gothic and his hostility to the revo- 
lution in building embodied in the plate glass and cast iron 
of the Crystal Palace. Yet much of what Ruskin says of the 
architecture of stone holds true for the architecture of steel. 
More than anyone else in the nineteenth century, he con- 
vinced the profession and the public that architecture is 
not an isolated science of compass and rule, but a vital in- 



122 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

dex o£ a nation's values. His insistence that a building must 
be honest if it is to be beautiful, functional and expressive 
of its materials and locale if it is to merit praise, is echoed 
less eloquently today. Those who associate his name with 
wedding-cake Gothic have never read his work. Indeed, in 
striving to revive Gothic he is to be condemned not for ad- 
miring monstrosities but for desiring impossibilities: a revo- 
lution in social and economic values which would have 
made it possible to build permanently and intelligently, in- 
stead of throwing up prebuilt slums for quick profit. More 
than a century ago, in "The Lamp of Memory," he looked 
upon the first festering signs of suburbia "not merely with 
the careless disgust of an offended eye, not merely with sor- 
row for a desecrated landscape, but with a painful forebod- 
ing that the roots of our national greatness must be deeply 
cankered when they are thus loosely struck in their native 
ground." 

The indictment is potent because it refuses to rest on 
aesthetic grounds alone. Precisely as Ruskin had hoped in 
Modern Painters to make the study of art "an instrument of 
gigantic moral power," so in The Seven Lamps he tried to 
make architecture a means of enriching the nation's values. 
His role in the revival of Gothic is merely of historic interest; 
but he still compels attention as a superbly articulate mor- 
alist who could not divorce the science of building from the 
art of living. 

After completing The Seven Lamps, Ruskin continued 
his architectural studies in Venice, where he lived with his 
wife during much of 1849-52. But he was in fact more 
wedded to the city than to her. In his letters and diaries of 
the period we find him strangely oblivious of his wife, but 
totally absorbed by the great effort of mind through which 
he deciphered and splendidly re-created Venice's past. The 
one marriage, never consummated, ended in annulment; 
the other produced the most elaborate and eloquent monu- 
ment to a city in our literature. 

An almost neurotic sense of urgency drove Ruskin to his 
labors of research for The Stones of Venice. He wrote to his 



ARCHITECTURE 123 

father in 1852 that he had examined piece by piece build- 
ings covering five square miles, read some forty volumes of 
the city's archives, and made hundreds of architectural draw- 
ings — all while unraveling the conflicting chronology of his 
sources and composing the book. Yet The Stones of Venice 
is even more notable as a work of art than as a work of 
scholarship. When the book appeared, professional archi- 
tects condemned Ruskin's perversity in having praised the 
uncouth St. Mark's in direct opposition to every other archi- 
tectural critic. His image of Venice was as radically fresh 
and brilliant as Turner's vision of her sea and sky. 

Although Ruskin recounts the history of Venice from its 
founding through its fall, the unifying theme of the book 
lies elsewhere. "The relation of the art of Venice to her 
moral temper," he wrote, "is the chief subject of the book, 
and that of the life of the workman to his work ... is the 
most important practical principle developed in it." Ruskin 
had touched on both ideas in The Seven Lamps. But the 
last point, almost an irrelevant aside in the earlier book, 
was the source of the great central chapter of The Stones of 
Venice, "the Nature of Gothic," which William Morris 
called "one of the very few necessary and inevitable utter- 
ances of the century." "The Nature of Gothic" in turn led 
Ruskin in the 1860s to his radical assault upon the social and 
economic structure of England. 

The actual stones of Venice served Ruskin as touchstones 
which confirmed the principles of The Seven Lamps. His 
digressiveness was curbed by the orderly flow of Venetian 
history and by the requirements of a consistently maintained 
thesis. But in place of the tedious unity of a chronicle, he 
succeeded in writing a morality drama in which the se- 
quence of doges and styles marks not only moments in 
Venice's history but also forces contending for the aesthetic 
and moral integrity of the city itself. The Stones of Venice 
is a Christian epic, magnificent in scope, which in its final 
volume — The Fall — completes the drama of a Gothic para- 
dise lost. 

-J. D. R. 



THE SEVEN LAMPS 
OF ARCHITECTURE 



The Lamp of Truth 

The violations of truth, which dishonour poetry and paint- 
ing, are . . . for the most part confined to the treatment 
of their subjects. But in architecture another and a less sub- 
tle, more contemptible, violation of truth is possible; a di- 
rect falsity of assertion respecting the nature of material, or 
the quantity of labour. And this is, in the full sense of the 
word, wrong; it is as truly deserving of reprobation as any 
other moral delinquency; it is unworthy alike of architects 
and of nations; and it has been a sign, wherever it has widely 
and with toleration existed, of a singular debasement of the 
arts. . . . We may not be able to command good, or beautiful, 
or inventive, architecture; but we can command an honest 
architecture: the meagreness of poverty may be pardoned, 
the sternness of utility respected; but what is there but scorn 
for the meanness of deception? 

Architectural Deceits are broadly to be considered under 
three heads: — 

1st. The suggestion of a mode of structure or support, 
other than the true one; as in pendants of late Gothic roofs. 

2nd. The painting of surfaces to represent some other ma- 
terial than that of which they actually consist (as in the mar- 
bling of wood), or the deceptive representation of sculptured 
ornament upon them. 

3rd. The use of cast or machine-made ornaments of any 
kind. 

Now, it may be broadly stated, that architecture will be 



THE LAMP OF TRUTH 125 

noble exactly in the degree in which all these false expedi- 
ents are avoided. . . . 

With deceptive concealments of structure are to be classed, 
though still more blameable, deceptive assumptions of it, — 
the introduction of members which should have, or profess 
to have, a duty, and have none. One of the most general in- 
stances of this will be found in the form of the flying buttress 
in late Gothic. The use of that member is, of course, to con- 
vey support from one pier to another when the plan of the 
building renders it necessary or desirable that the support- 
ing masses should be divided into groups; the most frequent 
necessity of this kind arising from the intermediate range of 
chapels or aisles between the nave or choir walls and their 
supporting piers. The natural, healthy, and beautiful ar- 
rangement is that of a steeply sloping bar of stone, sustained 
by an arch with its spandrel carried farthest down on the 
lowest side, and dying into the vertical of the outer pier; 
that pier being, of course, not square, but rather a piece of 
wall set at right angles to the supported walls, and, if need 
be, crowned by a pinnacle to give it greater weight. The 
whole arrangement is exquisitely carried out in the choir 
of Beauvais. In later Gothic the pinnacle became gradually 
a decorative member, and was used in all places merely for 
the sake of its beauty. There is no objection to this; it is just 
as lawful to build a pinnacle for its beauty as a tower; but 
also the buttress became a decorative member; and was used, 
first, where it was not wanted, and, secondly, in forms in 
which it could be of no use, becoming a mere tie, not be- 
tween the pier and wall, but between the wall and the top 
of the decorative pinnacle, thus attaching itself to the very 
point where its thrust, if it made any, could not be resisted. 
The most flagrant instance of this barbarism that I remem- 
ber, (though it prevails partially in all the spires of the 
Netherlands,) is the lantern of St. Ouen at Rouen, where 
the pierced buttress, having an ogee curve, looks about as 
much calculated to bear a thrust as a switch of willow; and 
the pinnacles, huge and richly decorated, have evidently no 



126 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

work to do whatsoever, but stand round the central tower, 
like four idle servants, as they are — heraldic supporters, that 
central tower being merely a hollow crown, which needs no 
more buttressing than a basket does. In fact, I do not know 
any thing more strange or unwise than the praise lavished 
upon this lantern; it is one of the basest pieces of Gothic in 
Europe; its flamboyant traceries being of the last and most 
degraded forms: and its entire plan and decoration resem- 
bling, and deserving little more credit than, the burnt sugar 
ornaments of elaborate confectionery. . . . 

It would be easy to give many instances of the danger of 
these tricks and vanities; but I shall confine myself to the 
examination of one which has, as I think, been the cause of 
the fall of Gothic architecture throughout Europe. I mean 
the system of intersectional mouldings, which, on account 
of its great importance, and for the sake of the general 
reader, I may, perhaps, be pardoned for explaining elemen- 
tarily. . . . 

Tracery arose from the gradual enlargement of the pene- 
trations of the shield of stone which, usually supported by a 
central pillar, occupied the head of early windows . . . and 
finally, by thinning out the stony ribs [reached] conditions 
like that of the glorious typical form of the clerestory of the 
apse of Beauvais. 

Now, it will be noticed that, during the whole of this 
process, the attention is kept fixed on the forms of the pene- 
trations, that is to say, of the lights as seen from the interior, 
not of the intermediate stone. All the grace of the window 
is in the outline of its light; and I have drawn all these 
traceries as seen from within, in order to show the effect of 
the light thus treated, at first in far off and separate stars, 
and then gradually enlarging, approaching, until they come 
and stand over us, as it were, filling the whole space with 
their effulgence. And it is in this pause of the star, that we 
have the great, pure, and perfect form of French Gothic; it 
was at the instant when the rudeness of the intermediate 
space had been finally conquered, when the light had ex- 
panded to its fullest, and yet had not lost its radiant unity, 



THE LAMP OF TRUTH 127 

principality, and visible first causing of the whole, that we 
have the most exquisite feeling and most faultless judg- 
ments in the management alike of the tracery and decora- 
tions. . . . That tracery marks a pause between the laying 
aside of one great ruling principle, and the taking up of 
another; a pause as marked, as clear, as conspicuous to the 
distant view of after times, as to the distant glance of the 
traveller is the culminating ridge of the mountain chain 
over which he has passed. It was the great watershed of 
Gothic art. Before it, all had been ascent; after it, all was 
decline. . . . 

The change of which I speak, is expressible in few words; 
but one more important, more radically influential, could 
not be. It was the substitution of the line for the mass, as the 
element of decoration. 

We have seen the mode in which the openings or pene- 
tration of the window expanded, until what were, at first, 
awkward forms of intermediate stone, became delicate lines 
of tracery; and I have been careful in pointing out the pe- 
culiar attention bestowed on the proportion and decoration 
of the mouldings of the window at Rouen, as compared with 
earlier mouldings, because that beauty and care are singu- 
larly significant. They mark that the traceries had caught 
the eye of the architect. Up to that time, up to the very last 
instant in which the reduction and thinning of the inter- 
vening stone was consummated, his eye had been on the 
openings only, on the stars of light. He did not care about 
the stone; a rude border of moulding was all he needed, it 
was the penetrating shape which he was watching. But when 
that shape had received its last possible expansion, and when 
the stone-work became an arrangement of graceful and par- 
allel lines, that arrangement, like some form in a picture, 
unseen and accidentally developed, struck suddenly, inevit- 
ably, on the sight. It had literally not been seen before. It 
flashed out in an instant, as an independent form. It became 
a feature of the work. The architect took it under his care, 
thought over it, and distributed its members as we see. 

Now, the great pause was at the moment when the space 



128 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

and the dividing stone-work were both equally considered. 
It did not last fifty years. The forms of the tracery were 
seized with a childish delight in the novel source of beauty; 
and the intervening space was cast aside, as an element of 
decoration, for ever. I have confined myself, in following this 
change, to the window, as the feature in which it is clearest. 
But the transition is the same in every member of architec- 
ture; ... I pursue here the question of truth, relating to 
the treatment of the mouldings. 

The reader will observe that, up to the last expansion of 
the penetrations, the stone-work was necessarily considered, 
as it actually is, stiff, and unyielding. It was so, also, during 
the pause of which I have spoken, when the forms of the 
tracery were still severe and pure; delicate indeed, but per- 
fectly firm. 

At the close of the period of pause, the first sign of serious 
change was like a low breeze, passing through the emaciated 
tracery, and making it tremble. It began to undulate like 
the threads of a cobweb lifted by the wind. It lost its essence 
as a structure of stone. Reduced to the slenderness of threads, 
it began to be considered as possessing also their flexibility. 
The architect was pleased with this his new fancy, and set 
himself to carry it out; and in a little time, the bars of 
tracery were caused to appear to the eye as if they had been 
woven together like a net. This was a change which sacri- 
ficed a great principle of truth; it sacrificed the expression 
of the qualities of the material; and, however delightful its 
results in their first developments, it was ultimately ruinous. 

For, observe the difference between the supposition of 
ductility, and that of elastic structure noticed above in the 
resemblance to tree form. That resemblance was not sought, 
but necessary; it resulted from the natural conditions of 
strength in the pier or trunk, and slenderness in the ribs or 
branches, while many of the other suggested conditions of 
resemblance were perfectly true. A tree branch, though in a 
certain sense flexible, is not ductile; it is as firm in its own 
form as the rib of stone; both of them will yield up to certain 



THE LAMP OF TRUTH 129 

limits, both of them breaking when those limits are ex- 
ceeded; while the tree trunk will bend no more than the 
stone pillar. But when the tracery is assumed to be as yield- 
ing as a silken cord; when the whole fragility, elasticity, and 
weight of the material are to the eye, if not in terms, denied; 
when all the art of the architect is applied to disprove the 
first conditions of his working, and the first attributes of his 
materials; this is a deliberate treachery, only redeemed from 
the charge of direct falsehood by the visibility of the stone 
surface, and degrading all the traceries it affects exactly in 
the degree of its presence. 

But the declining and morbid taste of the later architects 
was not satisfied with thus much deception. They were de- 
lighted with the subtle charm they had created, and thought 
only of increasing its power. The next step was to consider 
and represent the tracery, as not only ductile, but penetra- 
ble; and when two mouldings met each other, to manage 
their intersection, so that one should appear to pass through 
the other, retaining its independence; or when two ran par- 
allel to each other, to represent the one as partly contained 
within the other, and partly apparent above it. This form of 
falsity was that which crushed the art. The flexible traceries 
were often beautiful, though they were ignoble; but the pen- 
etrated traceries, rendered, as they finally were, merely the 
means of exhibiting the dexterity of the stone-cutter, annihi- 
lated both the beauty and dignity of the Gothic types. . . . 

It would be too painful a task to follow further the carica- 
tures of form and eccentricities of treatment, which grew out 
of this single abuse — the flattened arch, the shrunken pillar, 
the lifeless ornament, the liny moulding, the distorted and 
extravagant foliation, until the time came when, over these 
wrecks and remnants, deprived of all unity and principle, 
rose the foul torrent of the Renaissance, and swept them all 
away. 

So fell the great dynasty of mediaeval architecture. It was 
because it had lost its own strength, and disobeyed its own 
laws — because its order, and consistency, and organisation, 



130 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

had been broken through — that it could oppose no resist- 
ance to the rush of overwhelming innovation. And this, ob- 
serve, all because it had sacrificed a single truth. From that 
one surrender of its integrity, from that one endeavour to 
assume the semblance of what it was not, arose the multitu- 
dinous forms of disease and decrepitude, which rotted away 
the pillars of its supremacy. It was not because its time was 
come; it was not because it was scorned by the classical Ro- 
manist, or dreaded by the faithful Protestant. That scorn 
and that fear it might have survived, and lived; it would 
have stood forth in stern comparison with the enervated 
sensuality of the Renaissance; it would have risen in re- 
newed and purified honour, and with a new soul, from the 
ashes into which it sank, giving up its glory, as it had re- 
ceived it, for the honour of God — but its own truth was 
gone, and it sank for ever. There was no wisdom nor 
strength left in it, to raise it from the dust; and the error of 
zeal, and the softness of luxury, smote it down and dissolved 
it away. It is good for us to remember this, as we tread upon 
the bare ground of its foundations, and stumble over its scat- 
tered stones. Those rent skeletons of pierced wall, through 
which our sea-winds moan and murmur, strewing them joint 
by joint, and bone by bone, along the bleak promontories 
on which the Pharos lights came once from houses of prayer 
— those grey arches and quiet aisles under which the sheep 
of our valleys feed and rest on the turf that has buried their 
altars — those shapeless heaps, that are not of the Earth, 
which lift our fields into strange and sudden banks of 
flowers, and stay our mountain streams with stones that are 
not their own, have other thoughts to ask from us than those 
of mourning for the rage that despoiled, or the fear that 
forsook them. It was not the robber, not the fanatic, not 
the blasphemer, who sealed the destruction that they had 
wrought; the war, the wrath, the terror, might have worked 
their worst, and the strong walls would have risen, and the 
slight pillars would have started again, from under the hand 
of the destroyer. But they could not rise out of the ruins of 
their own violated truth. 



THE LAMP OF MEMORY 131 

The Lamp of Memory 

It is as the centralisation and protectress of this sacred influ- 
ence [of memory] that Architecture is to be regarded by us 
with the most serious thought. We may live without her, 
and worship without her, but we cannot remember without 
her. How cold is all history, how lifeless all imagery, com- 
pared to that which the living nation writes, and the uncor- 
rupted marble bears! — how many pages of doubtful record 
might we not often spare, for a few stones left one upon an- 
other! The ambition of the old Babel builders was well di- 
rected for this world: there are but two strong conquerors of 
the forgetfulness of men, Poetry and Architecture; and the 
latter in some sort includes the former, and is mightier in its 
reality: it is well to have, not only what men have thought 
and felt, but what their hands have handled, and their 
strength wrought, and their eyes beheld, all the days of their 
life. The age of Homer is surrounded with darkness, his very 
personality with doubt. Not so that of Pericles: and the day 
is coming when we shall confess, that we have learned more 
of Greece out of the crumbled fragments of her sculpture 
than even from her sweet singers or soldier historians. And 
if indeed there be any profit in our knowledge of the past, 
or any joy in the thought of being remembered hereafter, 
which can give strength to present exertion, or patience to 
present endurance, there are two duties respecting national 
architecture whose importance it is impossible to overrate: 
the first, to render the architecture of the day, historical; 
and, the second, to preserve, as the most precious of inherit- 
ances, that of past ages. 

It is in the first of these two directions that Memory may 
truly be said to be the Sixth Lamp of Architecture; for it is 
in becoming memorial or monumental that a true perfec- 
tion is attained by civil and domestic buildings; and this 
partly as they are, with such a view, built in a more stable 
manner, and partly as their decorations are consequently 
animated by a metaphorical or historical meaning. . . . 



132 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

If men lived like men indeed, their houses would be tem- 
ples — temples which we should hardly dare to injure, and 
in which it would make us holy to be permitted to live; and 
there must be a strange dissolution of natural affection, a 
strange un thankfulness for all that homes have given and 
parents taught, a strange consciousness that we have been 
unfaithful to our fathers' honour, or that our own lives are 
not such as would make our dwellings sacred to our chil- 
dren, when each man would fain build to himself, and build 
for the little revolution of his own life only. And I look 
upon those pitiful concretions of lime and clay which spring 
up, in mildewed forwardness, out of the kneaded fields 
about our capital — upon those thin, tottering, foundation- 
less shells of splintered wood and imitated stone — upon 
those gloomy rows of formalised minuteness, alike without 
difference and without fellowship, as solitary as similar — not 
merely with the careless disgust of an offended eye, not 
merely with sorrow for a desecrated landscape, but with a 
painful foreboding that the roots of our national greatness 
must be deeply cankered when they are thus loosely struck 
in their native ground. . . . 

Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for 
ever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use 
alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us 
for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is 
to come when those stones will be held sacred because our 
hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look 
upon the labour and wrought substance of them, "See! this 
our fathers did for us." For, indeed, the greatest glory of a 
building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its 
Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watch- 
ing, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or con- 
demnation, which we feel in walls that have long been 
washed by the passing waves of humanity. It is in their last- 
ing witness against men, in their quiet contrast with the 
transitional character of all things, in the strength which, 
through the lapse of seasons, and times, and the decline and 



THE LAMP OF MEMORY 133 

birth of dynasties, and the changing of the face of the earth, 
and of the limits of the sea, maintains its sculptured shape- 
liness for a time insuperable, connects forgotten and follow- 
ing ages with each other, and half constitutes the identity, as 
it concentrates the sympathy, of nations: it is in that golden 
stain of time, that we are to look for the real light, and 
colour, and preciousness of architecture; and it is not until a 
building has assumed this character, till it has been en- 
trusted with the fame, and hallowed by the deeds of men, till 
its walls have been witnesses of suffering, and its pillars rise 
out of the shadows of death, that its existence, more lasting 
as it is than that of the natural objects of the world around 
it, can be gifted with even so much as these possess, of lan- 
guage and of life. . . . 

In the management of the sculptures of the Parthenon, 
shadow is frequently employed as a dark field on which 
the forms are drawn. This is visibly the case in the metopes, 
and must have been nearly as much so in the pediment. But 
the use of that shadow is entirely to show the confines of the 
figures; and it is to their lines, and not to the shapes of the 
shadows behind them, that the art and the eye are ad- 
dressed. The figures themselves are conceived, as much as 
possible, in full light, aided by bright reflections; they are 
drawn exactly as, on vases, white figures on a dark ground; 
and the sculptors have dispensed with, or even struggled to 
avoid, all shadows which were not absolutely necessary to 
the explaining of the form. On the contrary, in Gothic 
sculpture, the shadow becomes itself a subject of thought. It 
is considered as a dark colour, to be arranged in certain 
agreeable masses; the figures are very frequently made even 
subordinate to the placing of its divisions: and their cos- 
tume is enriched at the expense of the forms underneath, in 
order to increase the complexity and variety of the points of 
shade. There are thus, both in sculpture and painting, two, 
in some sort, opposite schools, of which the one follows for 
its subject the essential forms of things, and the other the 



134 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

accidental lights and shades upon them. There are various 
degrees of their contrariety: middle steps, as in the works of 
Correggio, and all degrees of nobility and of degradation in 
the several manners: but the one is always recognised as the 
pure and the other as the picturesque school. Portions of 
picturesque treatment will be found in Greek work, and of 
pure and unpicturesque in Gothic; and in both there are 
countless instances, as pre-eminently in the works of Michael 
Angelo, in which shadows become valuable as media of ex- 
pression, and therefore take rank among essential character- 
istics. Into these multitudinous distinctions and exceptions 
I cannot now enter, desiring only to prove the broad appli- 
cability of the general definition. . . . 

Those styles of architecture which are picturesque in the 
sense above explained with respect to sculpture, that is to 
say, whose decoration depends on the arrangement of points 
of shade rather than on purity of outline, do not suffer, but 
commonly gain in richness of effect when their details are 
partly worn away; hence such styles, pre-eminently that of 
French Gothic, should always be adopted when the materials 
to be employed are liable to degradation, as brick, sand- 
stone, or soft limestone; and styles in any degree dependent 
on purity of line, as the Italian Gothic, must be practised 
altogether in hard and undecomposing materials, granite, 
serpentine, or crystalline marbles. There can be no doubt 
that the nature of the accessible materials influenced the 
formation of both styles; and it should still more authorita- 
tively determine our choice of either. 

It does not belong to my present plan to consider at 
length the second head of duty of which I have above 
spoken; the preservation of the architecture we possess: but 
a few words may be forgiven, as especially necessary in mod- 
ern times. Neither by the public, nor by those who have the 
care of public monuments, is the true meaning of the word 
restoration understood. It means the most total destruction 
which a building can suffer: a destruction out of which no 
remnants can be gathered: a destruction accompanied with 



THE LAMP OF MEMORY 135 

false description of the thing destroyed. Do not let us de- 
ceive ourselves in this important matter; it is impossible, as 
impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has 
ever been great or beautiful in architecture. That which I 
have above insisted upon as the life of the whole, that spirit 
which is given only by the hand and eye of the workman, 
can never be recalled.* Another spirit may be given by an- 
other time, and it is then a new building; but the spirit of 
the dead workman cannot be summoned up, and com- 
manded to direct other hands, and other thoughts. And as 
for direct and simple copying, it is palpably impossible. 
What copying can there be of surfaces that have been worn 
half an inch down? The whole finish of the work was in the 
half inch that is gone; if you attempt to restore that finish, 
you do it con jectur ally; if you copy what is left, granting 
fidelity to be possible, (and what care, or watchfulness, or 
cost can secure it,) how is the new work better than the old? 
There was yet in the old some life, some mysterious sug- 
gestion of what it had been, and of what it had lost; some 
sweetness in the gentle lines which rain and sun had 
wrought. There can be none in the brute hardness of the 
new carving. . . . 

Do not let us talk then of restoration. The thing is a Lie 

* In Chapter V, "The Lamp of Life," Ruskin had written: 

"I believe the right question to ask, respecting all ornament, is sim- 
ply this: Was it done with enjoyment — was the carver happy while he 
was about it? It may be the hardest work possible, and the harder 
because so much pleasure was taken in it; but it must have been 
happy too, or it will not be living. How much of the stone mason's 
toil this condition would exclude I hardly venture to consider, but 
the condition is absolute. There is a Gothic church lately built near 
Rouen, vile enough, indeed, in its general composition, but excessively 
rich in detail; many of the details are designed with taste, and all 
evidently by a man who has studied old work closely. But it is all as 
dead as leaves in December; there is not one tender touch, not one 
warm stroke on the whole facade. The men who did it hated it, and 
were thankful when it was done. And so long as they do so they are 
merely loading your walls with shapes of clay: the garlands of ever- 
lastings in Pere la Chaise are more cheerful ornaments. You cannot 
get the feeling by paying for it — money will not buy life." 



136 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

from beginning to end. You may make a model of a build- 
ing as you may of a corpse, and your model may have the 
shell of the old walls within it as your cast might have the 
skeleton, with what advantage I neither see nor care: but 
the old building is destroyed, and that more totally and 
mercilessly than if it had sunk into a heap of dust, or melted 
into a mass of clay: more has been gleaned out of desolated 
Nineveh than ever will be out of re-built Milan. But it is 
said, there may come a necessity for restoration! Granted. 
Look the necessity full in the face, and understand it on its 
own terms. It is a necessity for destruction. Accept it as such, 
pull the building down, throw its stones into neglected cor- 
ners, make ballast of them, or mortar, if you will; but do it 
honestly, and do not set up a Lie in their place. And look 
that necessity in the face before it comes, and you may pre- 
vent it. The principle of modern times, (a principle which, 
I believe, at least in France, to be systematically acted on 
by the masons, in order to find themselves work, as the 
abbey of St. Ouen was pulled down by the magistrates of 
the town by way of giving work to some vagrants,) is to 
neglect buildings first, and restore them afterwards. Take 
proper care of your monuments, and you will not need to 
restore them. A few sheets of lead put in time upon a roof, 
a few dead leaves and sticks swept in time out of a water- 
course, will save both roof and walls from ruin. Watch an 
old building with an anxious care; guard it as best you may, 
and at any cost, from every influence of dilapidation. Count 
its stones as you would jewels of a crown; set watches about 
it as if at the gates of a besieged city; bind it together with 
iron where it loosens; stay it with timber where it declines; 
do not care about the unsightliness of the aid: better a 
crutch than a lost limb; and do this tenderly, and reverently, 
and continually, and many a generation will still be born 
and pass away beneath its shadow. Its evil day must come at 
last; but let it come declaredly and openly, and let no dis- 
honouring and false substitute deprive it of the funeral 
offices of memory. 



THE LAMP OF MEMORY 137 

Of more wanton or ignorant ravage it is vain to speak; 
my words will not reach those who commit them, and yet, 
be it heard or not, I must not leave the truth unstated, that 
it is again no question of expediency or feeling whether we 
shall preserve the buildings of past times or not. We have 
no right whatever to touch them. They are not ours. They 
belong partly to those who built them, and partly to all the 
generations of mankind who are to follow us. The dead 
have still their right in them: that which they laboured 
for, the praise of achievement or the expression of religious 
feeling, or whatsoever else it might be which in those build- 
ings they intended to be permanent, we have no right to ob- 
literate. What we have ourselves built, we are at liberty to 
throw down; but what other men gave their strength and 
wealth and life to accomplish, their right over does not pass 
away with their death; still less is the right to the use of 
what they have left vested in us only. It belongs to all their 
successors. It may hereafter be a subject of sorrow, or a cause 
of injury, to millions, that we have consulted our present 
convenience by casting down such buildings as we choose 
to dispense with. That sorrow, that loss, we have no right 
to inflict. Did the cathedral of Avranches belong to the mob 
who destroyed it, any more than it did to us, who walk in 
sorrow to and fro over its foundation? Neither does any 
building whatever belong to those mobs who do violence to 
it. For a mob it is, and must be always; it matters not 
whether enraged, or in deliberate folly; whether countless, 
or sitting in committees; the people who destroy anything 
causelessly are a mob, and Architecture is always destroyed 
causelessly. A fair building is necessarily worth the ground 
it stands upon, and will be so until Central Africa and 
America shall have become as populous as Middlesex: nor 
is any cause whatever valid as a ground for its destruction. 
If ever valid, certainly not now, when the place both of the 
past and future is too much usurped in our minds by the 
restless and discontented present. The very quietness of na- 
ture is gradually withdrawn from us; thousands who once 



138 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

in their necessarily prolonged travel were subjected to an 
influence, from the silent sky and slumbering fields, more 
effectual than known or confessed, now bear with them 
even there the ceaseless fever of their life; and along the 
iron veins that traverse the frame of our country, beat and 
flow the fiery pulses of its exertion, hotter and faster every 
hour. All vitality is concentrated through those throbbing 
arteries into the central cities; the country is passed over 
like a green sea by narrow bridges, and we are thrown back 
in continually closer crowds upon the city gates. The only 
influence which can in any wise there take the place of that 
of the woods and fields, is the power of ancient Architec- 
ture.* 



* Ruskin returned to this theme in a remarkable lecture he gave to 
the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1865. One passage is es- 
pecially prophetic: 

"All lovely architecture was designed for cities in cloudless air; for 
cities in which piazzas and gardens opened in bright populousness and 
peace, cities built that men might live happily in them, and take 
delight daily in each other's presence and powers. But our cities, built 
in black air which, by its accumulated foulness, first renders all orna- 
ment invisible in distance, and then chokes its interstices with soot; 
cities which are mere crowded masses of store, and warehouse, and 
counter, and are therefore to the rest of the world what the larder 
and cellar are to a private house; cities in which the object of men is 
not life, but labour; and in which all chief magnitude of edifice is to 
enclose machinery; cities in which the streets are not the avenues for 
the passing and procession of a happy people, but the drains for the 
discharge of a tormented mob, in which the only object in reaching 
any spot is to be transferred to another; in which existence becomes 
mere transition, and every creature is only one atom in a drift of 
human dust, and current of interchanging particles, circulating here 
by tunnels underground, and there by tubes in the air, for a city, or 
cities, such as this no architecture is possible — nay, no desire of it is 
possible to their inhabitants." ("The Study of Architecture in Our 
Schools.") 



THE STONES OF VENICE 



The Quarry 

Since first the dominion of men was asserted over the ocean, 
three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon 
its sands: the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the 
First of these great powers only the memory remains; of the 
Second, the ruin; the Third, which inherits their greatness, 
if it forget their example, may be led through prouder emi- 
nence to less pitied destruction. 

The exaltation, the sin, and the punishment of Tyre have 
been recorded for us, in perhaps the most touching words 
ever uttered by the Prophets of Israel against the cities of 
the stranger. But we read them as a lovely song; and close 
our ears to the sternness of their warning: for the very depth 
of the Fall of Tyre has blinded us to its reality, and we 
forget, as we watch the bleaching of the rocks between the 
sunshine and the sea, that they were once "as in Eden, the 
garden of God." 

Her successor, like her in perfection of beauty, though 
less in endurance of dominion, is still left for our beholding 
in the final period of her decline: a ghost upon the sands of 
the sea, so weak — so quiet, — so bereft of all but her loveli- 
ness, that we might well doubt, as we watched her faint 
reflection in the mirage of the lagoon, which was the City, 
and which the Shadow. 

I would endeavour to trace the lines of this image before 
it be for ever lost, and to record, as far as I may, the warn- 
ing which seems to me to be uttered by every one of the 



140 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

fast-gaining waves, that beat like passing bells, against the 
Stones of Venice. . . . 

The state of Venice existed Thirteen Hundred and 
Seventy-six years, from the first establishment of a consular 
government on the island of the Rialto, to the moment 
when the General-in-chief of the French army of Italy pro- 
nounced the Venetian republic a thing of the past. Of this 
period, Two Hundred and Seventy-six years were passed in 
a nominal subjection to the cities of old Venetia, especially 
to Padua, and in an agitated form of democracy of which 
the executive appears to have been entrusted to tribunes, 
chosen, one by the inhabitants of each of the principal is- 
lands. For six hundred years, during which the power of 
Venice was continually on the increase, her government was 
an elective monarchy, her King or Doge possessing, in early 
times at least, as much independent authority as any other 
European sovereign, but an authority gradually subjected 
to limitation, and shortened almost daily of its prerogatives, 
while it increased in a spectral and incapable magnificence. 
The final government of the nobles under the image of a 
king, lasted for five hundred years, during which Venice 
reaped the fruits of her former energies, consumed them, — 
and expired. 

Let the reader therefore conceive the existence of the 
Venetian states as broadly divided into two periods: the first 
of nine hundred, the second of five hundred years, the 
separation being marked by what was called the "Serrar del 
Consiglio;" that is to say, the final and absolute distinction 
of the nobles from the commonalty, and the establishment 
of the government in their hands to the exclusion alike of 
the influence of the people on the one side, and the au- 
thority of the Doge on the other. 

Then the first period, of nine hundred years, presents us 
with the most interesting spectacle of a people struggling 
out of anarchy into order and power; and then governed, 
for the most part, by the worthiest and noblest man whom 
they could find among them, called their Doge or Leader, 



THE QUARRY 141 

with an aristocracy gradually and resolutely forming itself 
around him, out of which, and at last by which, he was 
chosen; an aristocracy owing its origin to the accidental 
numbers, influence, and wealth of some among the families 
of the fugitives from the older Venetia, and gradually or- 
ganising itself, by its unity and heroism, into a separate 
body. 

This first period includes the Rise of Venice, her noblest 
achievements, and the circumstances which determined her 
character and position among European powers; and within 
its range, as might have been anticipated, we find the names 
of all her hero princes — of Pietro Urseolo, Ordalafo Falier, 
Domenico Michieli, Sebastiano Ziani, and Enrico Dandolo. 

The second period opens with a hundred and twenty 
years, the most eventful in the career of Venice — the central 
struggle of her life — stained with her darkest crime, the 
murder of Carrara — disturbed by her most dangerous in- 
ternal sedition, the conspiracy of Falier — oppressed by her 
most fatal war, the war of Chiozza — and distinguished by 
the glory of her two noblest citizens (for in this period the 
heroism of her citizens replaces that of her monarchs), Vittor 
Pisani and Carlo Zeno. 

I date the commencement of the Fall of Venice from the 
death of Carlo Zeno, 8th May 1418; the visible commence- 
ment from that of another of her noblest and wisest chil- 
dren, the Doge Tomaso Mocenigo, who expired five years 
later. The reign of Foscari followed, gloomy with pestilence 
and war; a war in which large acquisitions of territory were 
made by subtle or fortunate policy in Lombardy, and dis- 
grace, significant as irreparable, sustained in the battles on 
the Po at Cremona, and in the marshes of Caravaggio. In 
1454, Venice, the first of the states of Christendom, humili- 
ated herself to the Turk: in the same year was established 
the Inquisition of State, and from this period her govern- 
ment takes the perfidious and mysterious form under which 
it is usually conceived. In 1477, the great Turkish invasion 
spread terror to the shores of the lagoons; and in 1508 the 



142 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

league of Cambrai marks the period usually assigned as the 
commencement of the decline of the Venetian power; the 
commercial prosperity of Venice in the close of the fifteenth 
century blinding her historians to the previous evidence of 
the diminution of her internal strength. . . . 

The most curious phenomenon in all Venetian history is 
the vitality of religion in private life, and its deadness in 
public policy. Amidst the enthusiasm, chivalry, or fanati- 
cism of the other states of Europe, Venice stands, from first 
to last, like a masked statue; her coldness impenetrable; her 
exertion only aroused by the touch of a secret spring. That 
spring was her commercial interest, — this the one motive of 
all her important political acts, or enduring national ani- 
mosities. She could forgive insults to her honour, but never 
rivalship in her commerce; she calculated the glory of her 
conquests by their value, and estimated their justice by their 
facility. The fame of success remains, when the motives of 
attempt are forgotten; and the casual reader of her history 
may perhaps be surprised to be reminded, that the ex- 
pedition which was commanded by the noblest of her 
princes, and whose results added most to her military glory, 
was one in which, while all Europe around her was wasted 
by the fire of its devotion, she first calculated the highest 
price she could exact from its piety for the armament she 
furnished, and then, for the advancement of her own private 
interests, at once broke her faith and betrayed her religion. 

And yet, in the midst of this national criminality, we 
shall be struck again and again by the evidences of the most 
noble individual feeling. . . . We find, on the one hand, a 
deep and constant tone of individual religion characterising 
the lives of the citizens of Venice in her greatness; we find 
this spirit influencing them in all the familiar and im- 
mediate concerns of life, giving a peculiar dignity to the 
conduct even of their commercial transactions. . . . With the 
fulness of this spirit the prosperity of the state is exactly 
correspondent, and with its failure her decline, and that 
with a closeness and precision which it will be one of the 



THE QUARRY 143 

collateral objects of the following essay to demonstrate from 
such accidental evidence as the field of its inquiry pre- 
sents. . . . 

First, receive the witness of Painting. 

It will be remembered that I put the commencement of 
the Fall of Venice as far back as 1418. 

Now, John Bellini was born in 1423, and Titian in 1480. 
John Bellini, and his brother Gentile, two years older than 
he, close the line of the sacred painters of Venice. But the 
most solemn spirit of religious faith animates their works to 
the last. There is no religion in any work of Titian's: there 
is not even the smallest evidence of religious temper or sym- 
pathies either in himself, or in those for whom he painted. 
His larger sacred subjects are merely themes for the exhibi- 
tion of pictorial rhetoric, — composition and colour. His 
minor works are generally made subordinate to purposes of 
portraiture. The Madonna in the church of the Frari is a 
mere lay figure, introduced to form a link of connection be- 
tween the portraits of various members of the Pesaro family 
who surround her. 

Now this is not merely because John Bellini was a reli- 
gious man and Titian was not. Titian and Bellini are each 
true representatives of the school of painters contemporary 
with them; and the difference in their artistic feeling is a 
consequence not so much of difference in their own natural 
characters as in their early education: Bellini was brought 
up in faith; Titian in formalism. Between the years of their 
births the vital religion of Venice had expired. 

The vital religion, observe, not the formal. Outward ob- 
servance was as strict as ever; and Doge and senator still 
were painted, in almost every important instance, kneeling 
before the Madonna or St. Mark; a confession of faith made 
universal by the pure gold of the Venetian sequin. But ob- 
serve the great picture of Titian's, in the ducal palace, of 
the Doge Antonio Grimani kneeling before Faith: there is a 
curious lesson in it. The figure of faith is a coarse portrait 
of one of Titian's least graceful female models: Faith had 



144 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

become carnal. The eye is first caught by the flash of the 
Doge's armour: the heart of Venice was in her wars, not in 
her worship. 

The mind of Tintoret, incomparably more deep and seri- 
ous than that of Titian, casts the solemnity of its own tone 
over the sacred subjects which it approaches, and sometimes 
forgets itself into devotion; but the principle of treatment is 
altogether the same as Titian's: absolute subordination of 
the religious subject to purposes of decoration or portrai- 
ture. 

The evidence might be accumulated a thousandfold from 
the works of Veronese, and of every succeeding painter, — ■ 
that the fifteenth century had taken away the religious 
heart of Venice. 

Such is the evidence of Painting. To collect that of Archi- 
tecture will be our task through many a page to come; but I 
must here give a general idea of its heads. . . . 

All European architecture, bad and good, old and new, is 
derived from Greece through Rome, and coloured and per- 
fected from the East. The history of architecture is nothing 
but the tracing of the various modes and directions of this 
derivation. Understand this, once for all: if you hold fast 
this great connecting clue, you may string all the types of 
successive architectural invention upon it like so many 
beads. The Doric and the Corinthian orders are the roots, 
the one of all Romanesque, massy-capi tailed buildings — 
Norman, Lombard, Byzantine, and what else you can name 
of the kind; and the Corinthian of all Gothic, Early English, 
French, German, and Tuscan. Now observe: those old 
Greeks gave the shaft; Rome gave the arch; the Arabs 
pointed and foliated the arch. The shaft and arch, the 
framework and strength of architecture, are from the race 
of Japheth: the spirituality and sanctity of it from Ismael, 
Abraham, and Shem. . . . 

I have said that the two orders, Doric and Corinthian, 
are the roots of all European architecture. You have, per- 
haps, heard of five orders: but there are only two real 



THE QUARRY 145 

orders: and there never can be any more until doomsday. 
On one of these orders the ornament is convex: those are 
Doric, Norman, and what else you recollect of the kind. On 
the other the ornament is concave: those are Corinthian, 
Early English, Decorated, and what else you recollect of that 
kind. The transitional form, in which the ornamental line 
is straight, is the centre or root of both. All other orders are 
varieties of these, or phantasms and grotesques, altogether 
indefinite in number and species. 

This Greek architecture, then, with its two orders, was 
clumsily copied and varied by the Romans with no particu- 
lar result, until they began to bring the arch into extensive 
practical service; except only that the Doric capital was 
spoiled in endeavours to mend it, and the Corinthian much 
varied and enriched with fanciful and often very beautiful 
imagery. And in this state of things came Christianity: 
seized upon the arch as her own: decorated it, and delighted 
in it: invented a new Doric capital to replace the spoiled 
Roman one: and all over the Roman empire set to work, 
with such materials as were nearest at hand, to express and 
adorn herself as best she could. This Roman Christian archi- 
tecture is the exact expression of the Christianity of the 
time, very fervid and beautiful — but very imperfect; in 
many respects ignorant, and yet radiant with a strong, child- 
ish light of imagination, which flames up under Constan- 
tine, illumines all the shores of the Bosphorus and the 
iEgean and the Adriatic Sea, and then gradually, as the 
people give themselves up to idolatry, becomes corpse-light. 
The architecture, like the religion it expressed, sinks into a 
settled form — a strange, gilded, and embalmed repose; and 
so would have remained for ever, — so does remain, where 
its languor has been undisturbed. But rough wakening was 
ordained for it. 

This Christian art of the declining empire is divided into 
two great branches, western and eastern; one centred at 
Rome, the other at Byzantium, of which the one is the early 
Christian Romanesque, properly so called, and the other, 



146 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

carried to higher imaginative perfection by Greek workmen, 
is distinguished from it as Byzantine. . . . Some of the bar- 
baric nations were, of course, not susceptible of this influ- 
ence; and, when they burst over the Alps, appear like the 
Huns, as scourges only, or mix, as the Ostrogoths, with the 
enervated Italians, and give physical strength to the mass 
with which they mingle, without materially affecting its 
intellectual character. But others, both south and north of 
the Empire, had felt its influence, back to the beach of the 
Indian ocean on the one hand, and to the ice creeks of the 
North Sea on the other. On the north and west the influence 
was of the Latins; on the south and east, of the Greeks. Two 
nations, pre-eminent above all the rest, represent to us the 
force of derived mind on either side. As the central power 
is eclipsed, the orbs of reflected light gather into their ful- 
ness; and when sensuality and idolatry had done their work, 
and the religion of the Empire was laid asleep in a glitter- 
ing sepulchre, the living light rose upon both horizons, and 
the fierce swords of the Lombard and Arab were shaken over 
its golden paralysis. 

The work of the Lombard was to give hardihood and 
system to the enervated body and enfeebled mind of Chris- 
tendom; that of the Arab was to punish idolatry, and to 
proclaim the spirituality of worship. The Lombard covered 
every church which he built with the sculptured representa- 
tions of bodily exercises — hunting and war. The Arab ban- 
ished all imagination of creature form from his temples, and 
proclaimed from their minarets, "There is no god but God." 
Opposite in their character and mission, alike in their mag- 
nificence of energy, they came from the North and from 
the South, the glacier torrent and the lava stream: they met 
and contended over the wreck of the Roman empire; and 
the very centre of the struggle, the point of pause of both, 
the dead water of the opposite eddies, charged with em- 
bayed fragments of the Roman wreck, is Venice. 

The Ducal palace of Venice contains the three elements 
in exactly equal proportions — the Roman, Lombard, and 
Arab. It is the central building of the world. 



THE QUARRY 147 

The reader will now begin to understand something of 
the importance of the study of the edifices of a city which 
concludes, within the circuit of some seven or eight miles, 
the field of contest between the three pre-eminent architec- 
tures of the world: — each architecture expressing a condi^ 
tion of religion; each an erroneous condition, yet necessary 
to the correction of the others, and corrected by them. . . . 

Now observe. The transitional (or especially Arabic) style 
of the Venetian work is centralised by the date 1180, and is 
transformed gradually into the Gothic, which extends in its 
purity from the middle of the thirteenth to the beginning 
of the fifteenth century; that is to say, over the precise pe- 
riod which I have described as the central epoch of the life 
of Venice. I dated her decline from the year 1418; Foscari 
became doge five years later, and in his reign the first 
marked signs appear in architecture of that mighty change 
... to which London owes St. Paul's, Rome St. Peter's, 
Venice and Vicenza the edifices commonly supposed to be 
their noblest, and Europe in general the degradation of 
every art she has since practised. 

This change appears first in a loss of truth and vitality 
in existing architecture all over the world. (Compare Seven 
Lamps, chap. ii. ["The Lamp of Truth," above].) All the 
Gothics in existence, southern or northern, were corrupted 
at once: the German and French lost themselves in every 
species of extravagance; the English Gothic was confined, 
in its insanity, by a strait-waistcoat of perpendicular lines; 
the Italian effloresced on the mainland into the meaningless 
ornamentation of Certosa of Pavia and the Cathedral of 
Como (a style sometimes ignorantly called Italian Gothic), 
and at Venice into the insipid confusion of the Porta della 
Carta and wild crockets of St. Mark's. This corruption of 
all architecture, especially ecclesiastical, corresponded with, 
and marked the state of religion over all Europe, — the pe- 
culiar degradation of the Romanist superstition, and of 
public morality in consequence, which brought about the 
Reformation. 

Against the corrupted papacy arose two great divisions 



148 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

of adversaries, Protestants in Germany and England; Ra- 
tionalists in France and Italy; the one requiring the purifi- 
cation of religion, the other its destruction. The Protestant 
kept the religion, but cast aside the heresies of Rome, and 
with them her arts, by which last rejection he injured his 
own character, cramped his intellect in refusing to it one of 
its noblest exercises, and materially diminished his influ- 
ence. It may be a serious question how far the Pausing of 
the Reformation has been a consequence of this error. 

The Rationalist kept the arts and cast aside the religion. 
This rationalistic art is the art commonly called Renais- 
sance, marked by a return to pagan systems, not to adopt 
them and hallow them for Christianity, but to rank itself 
under them as an imitator and pupil. In Painting it is 
headed by Giulio Romano and Nicolo Poussin; in Archi- 
tecture, by Sansovino and Palladio. 

Instant degradation followed in every direction, — a flood 
of folly and hypocrisy. Mythologies ill understood at first, 
then perverted into feeble sensualities, take the place of 
the representations of Christian subjects, which had become 
blasphemous under the treatment of men like the Caracci. 
Gods without power, satyrs without rusticity, nymphs with- 
out innocence, men without humanity, gather into idiot 
groups upon the polluted canvas, and scenic affectations en- 
cumber the streets with preposterous marble. Lower and 
lower declines the level of abused intellect; the base school 
of landscape gradually usurps the place of the historical 
painting, which had sunk into prurient pedantry, — the 
Alsatian sublimities of Salvator, the confectionery idealities 
of Claude, the dull manufacture of Gaspar and Canaletto, 
south of the Alps, and on the north the patient devotion of 
besotted lives to delineation of bricks and fogs, fat cattle 
and ditchwater. And thus, Christianity and morality, cour- 
age, and intellect, and art all crumbling together in one 
wreck, we are hurried on to the fall of Italy, the revolution 
in France, and the condition of art in England (saved by her 
Protestantism from severer penalty) in the time of George II. 



THE QUARRY 149 

I have not written in vain if I have heretofore done any- 
thing towards diminishing the reputation of the Renais- 
sance landscape painting. But the harm which has been 
done by Claude and the Poussins is as nothing when com- 
pared to the mischief effected by Palladio, Scamozzi, and 
Sansovino. Claude and the Poussins were weak men, and 
have had no serious influence on the general mind. There is 
little harm in their works being purchased at high prices: 
their real influence is very slight, and they may be left with- 
out grave indignation to their poor mission of furnishing 
drawing-rooms and assisting stranded conversation. Not so 
the Renaissance architecture. Raised at once into all the 
magnificence of which it was capable by Michael Angelo, 
then taken up by men of real intellect and imagination, 
such as Scamozzi, Sansovino, Inigo Jones, and Wren, it is 
impossible to estimate the extent of its influence on the 
European mind; and that the more, because few persons 
are concerned with painting, and of those few the larger 
number regard it with slight attention; but all men are 
concerned with architecture, and have at some time of their 
lives serious business with it. It does not much matter that 
an individual loses two or three hundred pounds in buying 
a bad picture, but it is to be regretted that a nation should 
lose two or three hundred thousand in raising a ridiculous 
building. Nor is it merely wasted wealth or distempered 
conception which we have to regret in this Renaissance 
architecture: but we shall find in it partly the root, partly 
the expression, of certain dominant evils of modern times — 
over-sophistication and ignorant classicalism; the one de- 
stroying the healthfulness of general society, the other 
rendering our schools and universities useless to a large 
number of the men who pass through them. 

Now Venice, as she was once the most religious, was in 
her fall the most corrupt, of European states; and as she was 
in her strength the centre of the pure currents of Christian 
architecture, so she is in her decline the source of the Renais- 
sance. It was the originality and splendour of the palaces of 



150 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Vicenza and Venice which gave this school its eminence in 
the eyes of Europe; and the dying city, magnificent in her 
dissipation, and graceful in her follies, obtained wider wor- 
ship in her decrepitude than in her youth, and sank from 
the midst of her admirers into the grave. 

It is in Venice, therefore, and in Venice only, that effec- 
tual blows can be struck at this pestilent art of the Renais- 
sance. Destroy its claims to admiration there, and it can 
assert them nowhere else. This, therefore, will be the final 
purpose of the following essay. [Vol. I, Chap. 1] 

The Throne 

In the olden days of travelling, now to return no more, in 
which distance could not be vanquished without toil, but 
in which that toil was rewarded . . . when there was some- 
thing more to be anticipated and remembered in the first 
aspect of each successive halting-place, than a new arrange- 
ment of glass roofing and iron girder, there were few mo- 
ments of which the recollection was more fondly cherished by 
the traveller, than that which . . . brought him within sight 
of Venice, as his gondola shot into the open lagoon from the 
canal of Mestre. Not but that the aspect of the city itself was 
generally the source of some slight disappointment, for, seen 
in this direction, its buildings are far less characteristic than 
those of the other great towns of Italy; but this inferiority 
was partly disguised by distance, and more than atoned for 
by the strange rising of its walls and towers out of the midst, 
as it seemed, of the deep sea, for it was impossible that the 
mind or the eye could at once comprehend the shallowness 
of the vast sheet of water which stretched away in leagues of 
rippling lustre to the north and south, or trace the narrow 
line of islets bounding it to the east. The salt breeze, the 
white moaning seabirds, the masses of black weed separating 
and disappearing gradually, in knots of heaving shoal, un- 
der the advance of the steady tide, all proclaimed it to be 



THE THRONE 151 

indeed the ocean on whose bosom the great city rested so 
calmly; not such blue, soft, lake-like ocean as bathes the 
Neapolitan promontories, or sleeps beneath the marble 
rocks of Genoa, but a sea with the bleak power of our own 
northern waves, yet subdued into a strange spacious rest, 
and changed from its angry pallor into a field of burnished 
gold, as the sun declined behind the belfry tower of the 
lonely island church, fitly named "St. George of the Sea- 
weed." As the boat drew nearer to the city, the coast which 
the traveller had just left sank behind him into one long, 
low, sad-coloured line, tufted irregularly with brushwood 
and willows: but, at what seemed its northern extremity, the 
hills of Arqua rose in a dark cluster of purple pyramids, 
balanced on the bright mirage of the lagoon; two or three 
smooth surges of inferior hill extended themselves about 
their roots, and beyond these, beginning with the craggy 
peaks above Vicenza, the chain of the Alps girded the whole 
horizon to the north — a wall of jagged blue, here and there 
showing through its clefts a wilderness of misty precipices, 
fading far back into the recesses of Cadore, and itself rising 
and breaking away eastward, where the sun struck opposite 
upon its snow, into mighty fragments of peaked light, stand- 
ing up behind the barred clouds of evening, one after an- 
other, countless, the crown of the Adrian Sea, until the eye 
turned back from pursuing them, to rest upon the nearer 
burning of the campaniles of M urano, and on the great city, 
where it magnified itself along the waves, as the quick silent 
pacing of the gondola drew nearer and nearer. And at last, 
when its walls were reached, and the outmost of its untrod- 
den streets was entered, not through towered gate or 
guarded rampart, but as a deep inlet between two rocks of 
coral in the Indian Sea; when first upon the traveller's sight 
opened the long ranges of columned palaces, — each with its 
black boat moored at the portal, — each with its image cast 
down, beneath its feet, upon that green pavement which 
every breeze broke into new fantasies of rich tessellation; 
when first, at the extremity of the bright vista, the shadowy 



152 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Rialto threw its colossal curve slowly forth from behind the 
palace of the Camerlenghi; that strange curve, so delicate, 
so adamantine, strong as a mountain cavern, graceful as a 
bow just bent; when first, before its moonlike circumfer- 
ence was all risen, the gondolier's cry, "Ah! Stali," struck 
sharp upon the ear, and the prow turned aside under the 
mighty cornices that half met over the narrow canal, where 
the plash of the water followed close and loud, ringing along 
the marble by the boat's side; and when at last that boat 
darted forth upon the breadth of silver sea, across which the 
front of the Ducal Palace, flushed with its sanguine veins, 
looks to the snowy dome of Our Lady of Salvation, it was 
no marvel that the mind should be so deeply entranced by 
the visionary charm of a scene so beautiful and so strange, 
as to forget the darker truths of its history and its being. 
Well might it seem that such a city had owed her existence 
rather to the rod of the enchanter, than the fear of the 
fugitive; that the waters which encircled her had been 
chosen for the mirror of her state, rather than the shelter 
of her nakedness; and that all which in nature was wild or 
merciless, — Time and Decay, as well as the waves and tem- 
pests, — had been won to adorn her instead of to destroy, 
and might still spare, for ages to come, that beauty which 
seemed to have fixed for its throne the sands of the hour- 
glass as well as of the sea. . . . 

The impotent feelings of romance, so singularly character- 
istic of this century, may indeed gild, but never save, the 
remains of those mightier ages to which they are attached 
like climbing flowers; and they must be torn away from the 
magnificent fragments, if we would see them as they stood 
in their own strength. Those feelings, always as fruitless as 
they are fond, are in Venice not only incapable of protect- 
ing, but even of discerning, the objects to which they ought 
to have been attached. The Venice of modern fiction and 
drama is a thing of yesterday, a mere efflorescence of decay, 
a stage dream which the first ray of daylight must dissipate 
into dust. No prisoner, whose name is worth remembering, 



THE THRONE 153 

or whose sorrow deserved sympathy, ever crossed that 
"Bridge of Sighs," which is the centre of the Byronic ideal 
of Venice; no great merchant of Venice ever saw that Rialto 
under which the traveller now passes with breathless in- 
terest: the statue which Byron makes Faliero address as of 
one of his great ancestors was erected to a soldier of fortune 
a hundred and fifty years after Faliero's death; and the most 
conspicuous parts of the city have been so entirely altered 
in the course of the last three centuries, that if Henry Dan- 
dolo or Francis Foscari could be summoned from their 
tombs, and stood each on the deck of his galley at the en- 
trance of the Grand Canal, that renowned entrance, the 
painter's favourite subject, the novelist's favourite scene, 
where the water first narrows by the steps of the Church of 
La Salute, — the mighty Doges would not know in what part 
of the world they stood, would literally not recognize one 
stone of the great city, for whose sake, and by whose ingrati- 
tude, their grey hairs had been brought down with bitter- 
ness to the grave. The remains of their Venice lie hidden 
behind the cumbrous masses which were the delight of the 
nation in its dotage; hidden in many a grass-grown court, 
and silent pathway, and lightless canal, where the slow waves 
have sapped their foundations for five hundred years, and 
must soon prevail over them for ever. It must be our task to 
glean and gather them forth, and restore out of them some 
faint image of the lost city; more gorgeous a thousandfold 
than that which now exists, yet not created in the day-dream 
of the prince, nor by the ostentation of the noble, but built 
by iron hands and patient hearts, contending against the 
adversity of nature and the fury of man, so that its wonder- 
fulness cannot be grasped by the indolence of imagination, 
but only after frank inquiry into the true nature of that 
wild and solitary scene, whose restless tides and trembling 
sands did indeed shelter the birth of the city, but long 
denied her dominion. . . . 

In order to know what it was once, let the traveller follow 
in his boat at evening the windings of some unfrequented 



154 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

channel far into the midst of the melancholy plain; let him 
remove, in his imagination, the brightness of the great city 
that still extends itself in the distance, and the walls and 
towers from the islands that are near; and so wait, until 
the bright investiture and sweet warmth of the sunset are 
withdrawn from the waters, and the black desert of their 
shore lies in its nakedness beneath the night, pathless, com- 
fortless, infirm, lost in dark languor and fearful silence, ex- 
cept where the salt runlets plash into the tireless pools, or 
the sea-birds flit from their margins with a questioning cry; 
and he will be enabled to enter in some sort into the horror 
of heart with which this solitude was anciently chosen by 
man for his habitation. They little thought, who first drove 
the stakes into the sand, and strewed the ocean reeds for 
their rest, that their children were to be the princes of that 
ocean, and their palaces its pride; and yet, in the great nat- 
ural laws that rule that sorrowful wilderness, let it be 
remembered what strange preparation had been made for 
the things which no human imagination could have fore- 
told, and how the whole existence and fortune of the Vene- 
tian nation were anticipated or compelled, by the setting 
of those bars and doors to the rivers and the sea. Had deeper 
currents divided their islands, hostile navies would again 
and again have reduced the rising city into servitude; had 
stronger surges beaten their shores, all the richness and re- 
finement of the Venetian architecture must have been ex- 
changed for the walls and bulwarks of an ordinary seaport. 
Had there been no tide, as in other parts of the Mediter- 
ranean, the narrow canals of the city would have become 
noisome, and the marsh in which it was built pestiferous. 
Had the tide been only a foot or eighteen inches higher in 
its rise, the water-access to the doors of the palaces would 
have been impossible: even as it is, there is sometimes a 
little difficulty, at the ebb, in landing without setting foot 
upon the lower and slippery steps; and the highest tides 
sometimes enter the courtyards, and overflow the entrance 
halls. Eighteen inches more of difference between the level 



TORCELLO 155 

of the flood and ebb would have rendered the doorsteps of 
every palace, at low water, a treacherous mass of weed and 
limpets, and the entire system of watercarriage for the 
higher classes, in their easy and daily intercourse, must have 
been done away with. The streets of the city would have 
been widened, its network of canals filled up, and all the 
peculiar character of the place and the people destroyed. 

The reader may perhaps have felt some pain in the con- 
trast between this faithful view of the site of the Venetian 
Throne, and the romantic conception of it which we ordi- 
narily form: but this pain, if he have felt it, ought to be 
more than counterbalanced by the value of the instance thus 
afforded to us at once of the inscrutableness and the wisdom 
of the ways of God. ... In the laws which were stretching 
forth the gloomy margins of those fruitless banks, and 
feeding the bitter grass among their shallows, there was in- 
deed a preparation, and the only preparation possible, for 
the founding of a city which was to be set like a golden clasp 
on the girdle of the earth, to write her history on the white 
scrolls of the sea-surges, and to word it in their thunder, and 
to gather and give forth, in world-wide pulsation, the glory 
of the West and of the East, from the burning heart of her 
Fortitude and Splendour! [Vol. II, Chap. 1] 

Torcello 

Seven miles to the north of Venice, the banks of sand, which 
near the city rise little above low-water mark, attain by de- 
grees a higher level, and knit themselves at last into fields of 
salt morass, raised here and there into shapeless mounds, 
and intercepted by narrow creeks of sea. One of the feeblest 
of these inlets, after winding for some time among buried 
fragments of masonry, and knots of sunburnt weeds 
whitened with webs of fucus, stays itself in an utterly stag- 
nant pool beside a plot of greener grass covered with ground 
ivy and violets. On this mound is built a rude brick campa- 



156 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

nile, of the commonest Lombardic type, which if we ascend 
towards evening (and there are none to hinder us, the door 
of its ruinous staircase swinging idly on its hinges), we may 
command from it one of the most notable scenes in this wide 
world of ours. Far as the eye can reach, a waste of wild sea 
moor, of a lurid ashen grey; not like our northern moors 
with their jet-black pools and purple heath, but lifeless, the 
colour of sackcloth, with the corrupted sea-water soaking 
through the roots of its acrid weeds, and gleaming hither 
and thither through its snaky channels. No gathering of 
fantastic mists, nor coursing of clouds across it; but melan- 
choly clearness of space in the warm sunset, oppressive, 
reaching to the horizon of its level gloom. To the very hori- 
zon, on the north-east; but, to the north and west, there is 
a blue line of higher land along the border of it, and above 
this, but farther back, a misty band of mountains, touched 
with snow. To the east, the paleness and roar of the Adriatic, 
louder at momentary intervals as the surf breaks on the bars 
of sand; to the south, the widening branches of the calm 
lagoon, alternately purple and pale green, as they reflect the 
evening clouds or twilight sky; and almost beneath our feet, 
on the same field which sustains the tower we gaze from, a 
group of four buildings, two of them little larger than cot- 
tages (though built of stone, and one adorned by a quaint 
belfry), the third an octagonal chapel, of which we can see 
but little more than the flat red roof with its rayed tiling, 
the fourth, a considerable church with nave and aisles, but 
of which, in like manner, we can see little but the long cen- 
tral ridge and lateral slopes of roof, which the sunlight sepa- 
rates in one glowing mass from the green field beneath and 
grey moor beyond. There are no living creatures near the 
buildings, nor any vestige of village or city round about 
them. They lie like a little company of ships becalmed on 
a far-away sea. 

Then look farther to the south. Beyond the widening 
branches of the lagoon, and rising out of the bright lake 
into which they gather, there are a multitude of towers, dark, 



TORCELLO 157 

and scattered among square-set shapes of clustered palaces, a 
long and irregular line fretting the southern sky. 

Mother and daughter, you behold them both in their 
widowhood, — Torcello, and Venice. 

Thirteen hundred years ago, the grey moorland looked 
as it does this day, and the purple mountains stood as radi- 
antly in the deep distances of evening; but on the line of the 
horizon, there were strange fires mixed with the light of sun- 
set, and the lament of many human voices mixed with the 
fretting of the waves on their ridges of sand. The flames rose 
from the ruins of Altinum; the lament from the multitude 
of its people, seeking, like Israel of old, a refuge from the 
sword in the paths of the sea. 

The cattle are feeding and resting upon the site of the 
city that they left; the mower's scythe swept this day at dawn 
over the chief street of the city that they built, and the 
swathes of soft grass are now sending up their scent into the 
night air, the only incense that fills the temple of their an- 
cient worship. Let us go down into that little space of 
meadow land. 

The inlet which runs nearest to the base of the campanile 
is not that by which Torcello is commonly approached. An- 
other, somewhat broader, and overhung by alder copse, 
winds out of the main channel of the lagoon up to the very 
edge of the little meadow which was once the Piazza of the 
city, and there, stayed by a few grey stones which present 
some semblance of a quay, forms its boundary at one extrem- 
ity. Hardly larger than an ordinary English farmyard, and 
roughly enclosed on each side by broken palings and hedges 
of honeysuckle and briar, the narrow field retires from the 
water's edge, traversed by a scarcely traceable footpath, for 
some forty or fifty paces, and then expanding into the form 
of a small square, with buildings on three sides of it, the 
fourth being that which opens to the water. . . . The first 
strong impression which the spectator receives from the 
whole scene is, that whatever sin it may have been which has 
on this spot been visited with so utter a desolation, it could 



158 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

not at least have been ambition. Nor will this impression 
be diminished as we approach, or enter, the larger church, 
to which the whole group of building is subordinate. It has 
evidently been built by men in flight and distress, who 
sought in the hurried erection of their island church such a 
shelter for their earnest and sorrowful worship as, on the one 
hand, could not attract the eyes of their enemies by its 
splendour, and yet, on the other, might not awaken too bit- 
ter feelings by its contrast with the churches which they had 
seen destroyed. There is visible everywhere a simple and 
tender effort to recover some of the form of the temples 
which they had loved, and to do honour to God by that 
which they were erecting, while distress and humiliation 
prevented the desire, and prudence precluded the admission, 
either of luxury or ornament or magnificence of plan. The 
exterior is absolutely devoid of decoration, with the excep- 
tion only of the western entrance and the lateral door, of 
which the former has carved sideposts and architrave, and 
the latter, crosses of rich sculpture; while the massy stone 
shutters of the windows, turning on huge rings of stone, 
which answer the double purpose of stanchions and brackets, 
cause the whole building rather to resemble a refuge from 
Alpine storm than the cathedral of a populous city; and, in- 
ternally, the two solemn mosaics of the eastern and western 
extremities, — one representing the Last Judgment, the other 
the Madonna, her tears falling as her hands are raised to 
bless, — and the noble range of pillars which enclose the 
space between, terminated by the high throne for the pastor 
and the semicircular raised seats for the superior clergy, are 
expressive at once of the deep sorrow and the sacred cour- 
age of men who had no home left them upon earth, but who 
looked for one to come, of men "persecuted but not for- 
saken, cast down but not destroyed." . . . 

Let us consider a little . . . what is very peculiar to this 
church, its luminousness. This perhaps strikes the traveller 
more from its contrast with the excessive gloom of the Church 
of St. Mark's; but it is remarkable when we compare the Ca- 



TORCELLO 159 

thedral of Torcello with any of the contemporary basilicas in 
South Italy or Lombardic churches in the North. St. Am- 
brogio at Milan, St. Michele at Pavia, St. Zeno at Verona, 
St. Frediano at Lucca, St. Miniato at Florence, are all like 
sepulchral caverns compared with Torcello, where the slight- 
est details of the sculptures and mosaics are visible, even 
when twilight is deepening. And there is something espe- 
cially touching in our finding the sunshine thus freely ad- 
mitted into a church built by men in sorrow. They did not 
need the darkness; they could not perhaps bear it. There 
was fear and depression upon them enough, without a mate- 
rial gloom. They sought for comfort in their religion, for 
tangible hopes and promises, not for threatenings or mys- 
teries; and though the subjects chosen for the mosaics on the 
walls are of the most solemn character, there are no artificial 
shadows cast upon them, nor dark colours used in them: all 
is fair and bright, and intended evidently to be regarded 
in hopefulness and not with terror. . . . 

The severity which is so marked in the pulpit at Torcello 
is still more striking in the raised seats and episcopal throne 
which occupy the curve of the apse. The arrangement at 
first somewhat recalls to the mind that of the Roman am- 
phitheatres; the flight of steps which lead up to the central 
throne divides the curve of the continuous steps or seats (it 
appears in the first three ranges questionable which were 
intended, for they seem too high for the one, and too low 
and close for the other), exactly as in an amphitheatre the 
stairs for access intersect the sweeping ranges of seats. But 
in the very rudeness of this arrangement, and especially in 
the want of all appliances of comfort (for the whole is of 
marble, and the arms of the central throne are not for con- 
venience, but for distinction, and to separate it more con- 
spicuously from the undivided seats), there is a dignity 
which no furniture of stalls nor carving of canopies ever 
could attain, and well worth the contemplation of the 
Protestant, both as sternly significative of an episcopal au- 
thority which in the early days of the Church was never dis- 



160 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

puted, and as dependent for all its impressiveness on the 
utter absence of any expression either of pride or self-indul- 
gence. 

But there is one more circumstance which we ought to re- 
member as giving peculiar significance to the position which 
the episcopal throne occupies in this island church, namely, 
that in the minds of all early Christians the Church itself 
was most frequently symbolised under the image of a ship, 
of which the bishop was the pilot. Consider the force which 
this symbol would assume in the imaginations of men to 
whom the spiritual Church had become an ark of refuge in 
the midst of a destruction hardly less terrible than that from 
which the eight souls were saved of old, I Peter iii. 20, a 
destruction in which the wrath of man had become as broad 
as the earth and as merciless as the sea, and who saw the 
actual and literal edifice of the Church raised up, itself like 
an ark in the midst of the waters. No marvel if with the 
surf of the Adriatic rolling between them and the shores of 
their birth, from which they were separated for ever, they 
should have looked upon each other as the disciples did 
when the storm came down on the Tiberias Lake, and have 
yielded ready and loving obedience to those who ruled them 
in His name, who had there rebuked the winds and com- 
manded stillness to the sea. And if the stranger would yet 
learn in what spirit it was that the dominion of Venice was 
begun, and in what strength she went forth conquering and 
to conquer, let him not seek to estimate the wealth of her 
arsenals or number of her armies, nor look upon the pag- 
eantry of her palaces, nor enter into the secrets of her coun- 
cils; but let him ascend the highest tier of the stern ledges 
that sweep round the altar of Torcello, and then, looking 
as the pilot did of old along the marble ribs of the goodly 
temple-ship, let him re-people its veined deck with the 
shadows of its dead mariners, and strive to feel in himself 
the strength of heart that was kindled within them, when 
first, after the pillars of it had settled in the sand, and the 
roof of it had been closed against the angry sky that was still 



ST. MARK'S 161 

reddened by the fires of their homesteads, — first, within the 
shelter of its knitted walls, amidst the murmur of the waste 
of waves and the beating of the wings of the sea-birds round 
the rock that was strange to them, — rose that ancient hymn, 
in the power of their gathered voices: 

The sea is His, and He made it; 

And His hands prepared the dry land. 

[Vol. II, Chap. 2] 

St. Mark's 

"And so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus." If 
as the shores of Asia lessened upon his sight, the spirit of 
prophecy had entered into the heart of the weak disciple 
who had turned back when his hand was on the plough, 
and who had been judged, by the chief est of Christ's cap- 
tains, unworthy thenceforward to go forth with him to the 
work, how wonderful would he have thought it, that by the 
lion symbol in future ages he was to be represented among 
men! how woful, that the war-cry of his name should so 
often reanimate the rage of the soldier, on those very plains 
where he himself had failed in the courage of the Christian, 
and so often dye with fruitless blood that very Cypriot Sea, 
over whose waves, in repentance and shame, he was follow- 
ing the Son of Consolation! 

That the Venetians possessed themselves of his body in 
the ninth century, there appears no sufficient reason to 
doubt, nor that it was principally in consequence of their 
having done so, that they chose him for their patron saint. 
There exists, however, a tradition that before he went into 
Egypt he had founded the church at Aquileia, and was thus 
in some sort the first bishop of the Venetian isles and peo- 
ple. . . . But whether St. Mark was first bishop of Aquileia 
or not, St. Theodore was the first patron of the city; nor can 
he yet be considered as having entirely abdicated his early 



162 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

right, as his statue, standing on a crocodile, still companions 
the winged lion on the opposing pillar of the piazzetta. A 
church erected to this Saint is said to have occupied, before 
the ninth century, the site of St. Mark's; and the traveller, 
dazzled by the brilliancy of the great square, ought not to 
leave it without endeavouring to imagine its aspect in that 
early time, when it was a green field, cloister-like and quiet, 
divided by a small canal, with a line of trees on each side; 
and extending between the two churches of St. Theodore 
and St. Geminian, as the little piazza of Torcello lies be- 
tween its "palazzo" and cathedral. 

But in the year 813, when the seat of government was 
finally removed to Rialto, a Ducal Palace, built on the spot 
where the present one stands, with a Ducal Chapel beside 
it, gave a very different character to the Square of St. Mark; 
and fifteen years later, the acquisition of the body of the 
Saint, and its deposition in the Ducal Chapel, perhaps not 
yet completed, occasioned the investiture of that Chapel 
with all possible splendour. St. Theodore was deposed from 
his patronship, and his church destroyed, to make room for 
the aggrandizement of the one attached to the Ducal Palace, 
and thenceforward known as "St. Mark's." 

This first church was however destroyed by fire, when the 
Ducal Palace was burned in the revolt against Candiano, in 
976. It was partly rebuilt by his successor, Pietro Orseolo, on 
a larger scale; and, with the assistance of Byzantine archi- 
tects, the fabric was carried on under successive Doges for 
nearly a hundred years; the main building being completed 
in 1071, but its incrustation with marble not till consider- 
ably later. It was consecrated on the 8th of October, 1085, 
according to Sansovino and the author of the "Chiesa Ducale 
di S. Marco," in 1094 according to Lazari, but certainly be- 
tween 1084 and 1096, those years being the limits of the 
reign of Vital Falier; I incline to the supposition that it was 
soon after his accession to the throne in 1085, though San- 
sovino writes, by mistake, Ordelafo instead of Vital Falier. 
But, at all events, before the close of the eleventh century 



ST. MARKS 163 

the great consecration of the church took place. It was again 
injured by fire in 1106, but repaired; and from that time to 
the fall of Venice there was probably no Doge who did not 
in some slight degree embellish or alter the fabric, so that 
few parts of it can be pronounced boldly to be of any given 
date. Two periods of interference are, however, notable 
above the rest: the first, that in which the Gothic school had 
superseded the Byzantine towards the close of the fourteenth 
century, when the pinnacles, upper archivolts, and window 
traceries were added to the exterior, and the great screen, 
with various chapels and tabernacle-work, to the interior; 
the second, when the Renaissance school superseded the 
Gothic, and the pupils of Titian and Tintoret substituted, 
over one half of the church, their own compositions for the 
Greek mosaics with which it was originally decorated; hap- 
pily, though with no good-will, having left enough to en- 
able us to imagine and lament what they destroyed. . . . 

And now I wish that the reader, before I bring him into 
St. Mark's Place, would imagine himself for a little time 
in a quiet English cathedral town, and walk with me to the 
west front of its cathedral. Let us go together up the more 
retired street, at the end of which we can see the pinnacles 
of one of the towers, and then through the low grey gate- 
way, with its battlemented top and small latticed window 
in the centre, into the inner private-looking road or close, 
where nothing goes in but the carts of the tradesmen who 
supply the bishop and the chapter, and where there are little 
shaven grass-plots, fenced in by neat rails, before old- 
fashioned groups of somewhat diminutive and excessively 
trim houses, with little oriel and bay windows jutting out 
here and there, and deep wooden cornices and eaves painted 
cream colour and white, and small porches to their doors in 
the shape of cockleshells, or little, crooked, thick, indescriba- 
ble wooden gables warped a little on one side; and so for- 
ward till we come to larger houses, also old-fashioned, but 
of red brick, and with garden behind them, and fruit walls, 
which show here and there, among the nectarines, the ves- 



164 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

tiges of an old cloister arch or shaft, and looking in front on 
the cathedral square itself, laid out in rigid divisions of 
smooth grass and gravel walk, yet not uncheerful, especially 
on the sunny side, where the canon's children are walking 
with their nurserymaids. And so, taking care not to tread on 
the grass, we will go along the straight walk to the west 
front, and there stand for a time, looking up at its deep- 
pointed porches and the dark places between their pillars 
where there were statues once, and where the fragments, 
here and there, of a stately figure are still left, which has in 
it the likeness of a king, perhaps indeed a king on earth, 
perhaps a saintly king long ago in heaven; and so higher 
and higher up to the great mouldering wall of rugged sculp- 
ture and confused arcades, shattered, and grey, and grisly 
with heads of dragons and mocking fiends, worn by the rain 
and swirling winds into yet unseemlier shape, and coloured 
on their stony scales by the deep russet-orange lichen, mel- 
ancholy gold; and so, higher still, to the bleak towers, so far 
above that the eye loses itself among the bosses of their 
traceries, though they are rude and strong, and only sees 
like a drift of eddying black points, now closing, now scat- 
tering, and now settling suddenly into visible places among 
the bosses and flowers, the crowd of restless birds that fill the 
whole square with that strange clangour of theirs, so harsh 
and yet so soothing, like the cries of birds on a solitary coast 
between the cliffs and sea. 

Think for a little while of that scene, and the meaning 
of all its small formalisms, mixed with its serene sublimity. 
Estimate its secluded, continuous, drowsy felicities, and its 
evidence of the sense and steady performance of such kind 
of duties as can be regulated by the cathedral clock; and 
weigh the influence of those dark towers on all who have 
passed through the lonely square at their feet for centuries, 
and on all who have seen them rising far away over the 
wooded plain, or catching on their square masses the last 
rays of the sunset, when the city at their feet was indicated 



ST. MARK'S 165 

only by the mist at the bend of the river. And then let us 
quickly recollect that we are in Venice, and land at the 
extremity of the Calle Lunga San Moise, which may be 
considered as there answering to the secluded street that led 
us to our English cathedral gateway. 

We find ourselves in a paved alley, some seven feet wide 
where it is widest, full of people, and resonant with cries of 
itinerant salesmen, — a shriek in their beginning, and dying 
away into a kind of brazen ringing, all the worse for its con- 
finement between the high houses of the passage along 
which we have to make our way. Overhead, an inextricable 
confusion of rugged shutters, and iron balconies and chim- 
ney flues, pushed out on brackets to save room, and arched 
windows with projecting sills of Istrian stone, and gleams 
of green leaves here and there where a fig-tree branch es- 
capes over a lower wall from some inner cortile, leading the 
eye up to the narrow stream of blue sky high over all. On 
each side, a row of shops, as densely set as may be, occupy- 
ing, in fact, intervals between the square stone shafts, about 
eight feet high, which carry the first floors: intervals of 
which one is narrow and serves as a door; the other is, in 
the more respectable shops, wainscotted to the height of the 
counter and glazed above, but in those of the poorer trades- 
men left open to the ground, and the wares laid on benches 
and tables in the open air, the light in all cases entering at 
the front only, and fading away in a few feet from the 
threshold into a gloom which the eye from without cannot 
penetrate, but which is generally broken by a ray or two 
from a feeble lamp at the back of the shop, suspended be- 
fore a print of the Virgin. . . . But a few steps farther on, 
at the regular wine-shop of the calle, where we are offered 
"Vino Nostrani a Soldi 28* 32," the Madonna is in great 
glory, enthroned above ten or a dozen large red casks of 
three-year-old vintage, and flanked by goodly ranks of bottles 
of Maraschino, and two crimson lamps; and for the evening, 
when the gondoliers will come to drink out, under her 



166 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

auspices, the money they have gained during the day, she 
will have a whole chandelier. 

A yard or two farther, we pass the hostelry of the Black 
Eagle, and glancing as we pass through the square door of 
marble, deeply moulded, in the outer wall, we see the 
shadows of its pergola of vines resting on an ancient well, 
with a pointed shield carved on its side; and so presently 
emerge on the bridge and Campo San Moise, whence to the 
entrance into St. Mark's Place, called the Bocca di Piazza 
(mouth of the square), the Venetian character is nearly de- 
stroyed, first by the frightful facade of San Moise, which 
we will pause at another time to examine, and then by the 
modernizing of the shops as they near the piazza, and the 
mingling with the lower Venetian populace of lounging 
groups of English and Austrians. We will push fast through 
them into the shadow of the pillars at the end of the "Bocca 
di Piazza," and then we forget them all; for between those 
pillars there opens a great light, and, in the midst of it, as 
we advance slowly, the vast tower of St. Mark seems to lift 
itself visibly forth from the level field of chequered stones; 
and, on each side, the countless arches prolong themselves 
into ranged symmetry, as if the rugged and irregular houses 
that pressed together above us in the dark alley had been 
struck back into sudden obedience and lovely order, and 
all their rude casements and broken walls had been trans- 
formed into arches charged with goodly sculpture, and 
fluted shafts of delicate stone. 

And well may they fall back, for beyond those troops of 
ordered arches there rises a vision out of the earth, and all 
the great square seems to have opened from it in a kind of 
awe, that we may see it far away; — a multitude of pillars 
and white domes, clustered into a long low pyramid of col- 
oured light; a treasure-heap, it seems, partly of gold, and 
partly of opal and mother-of-pearl, hollowed beneath into 
five great vaulted porches, ceiled with fair mosaic, and beset 
with sculpture of alabaster, clear as amber and delicate as 
ivory, — sculpture fantastic and involved, of palm leaves and 



ST. MARK'S 167 

lilies, and grapes and pomegranates, and birds clinging and 
fluttering among the branches all twined together into an 
endless network of buds and plumes; and in the midst of it, 
the solemn forms of angels, sceptred, and robed to the feet, 
and leaning to each other across the gates, their figures in- 
distinct among the gleaming of the golden ground through 
the leaves beside them, interrupted and dim, like the morn- 
ing light as it faded back among the branches of Eden, when 
first its gates were angel-guarded long ago. And round the 
walls of the porches there are set pillars of variegated stones, 
jasper and porphyry, and deep-green serpentine spotted 
with flakes of snow, and marbles, that half refuse and half 
yield to the sunshine, Cleopatra-like, "their bluest veins to 
kiss" — the shadow, as it steals back from them, revealing 
line after line of azure undulation, as a receding tide leaves 
the waved sand; their capitals rich with interwoven tracery, 
rooted knots of herbage, and drifting leaves of acanthus and 
vine, and mystical signs, all beginning and ending in the 
Cross; and above them, in the broad archivolts, a continu- 
ous chain of language and of life — angels, and the signs of 
heaven, and the labours of men, each in its appointed sea- 
son upon the earth; and above these, another range of 
glittering pinnacles, mixed with white arches edged with 
scarlet flowers, — a confusion of delight, amidst which the 
breasts of the Greek horses are seen blazing in their breadth 
of golden strength, and the St. Mark's lion, lifted on a blue 
field covered with stars, until at last, as if in ecstasy, the 
crests of the arches break into a marble foam, and toss them- 
selves far into the blue sky in flashes and wreaths of sculp- 
tured spray, as if the breakers on the Lido shore had been 
frost-bound before they fell, and the sea-nymphs had inlaid 
them with coral and amethyst. 

Between that grim cathedral of England and this, what 
an interval! There is a type of it in the very birds that haunt 
them; for, instead of the restless crowd, hoarse-voiced and 
sable-winged, drifting on the bleak upper air, the St. Mark's 
porches are full of doves, that nestle among the marble foli- 



168 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

age, and mingle the soft iridescence of their living plumes, 
changing at every motion, with the tints, hardly less lovely, 
that have stood unchanged for seven hundred years. 

And what effect has this splendour on those who pass be- 
neath it? You may walk from sunrise to sunset, to and fro, 
before the gateway of St. Mark's, and you will not see an 
eye lifted to it, nor a countenance brightened by it. Priest 
and layman, soldier and civilian, rich and poor, pass by it 
alike regardlessly. Up to the very recesses of the porches, the 
meanest tradesmen of the city push their counters; nay, the 
foundations of its pillars are themselves the seats — not "of 
them that sell doves"* for sacrifice, but of the vendors of 
toys and caricatures. Round the whole square in front of the 
church there is almost a continuous line of cafes, where the 
idle Venetians of the middle classes lounge, and read empty 
journals; in its centre the Austrian bands play during the 
time of vespers, their martial music jarring with the organ 
notes, — the march drowning the miserere, and the sullen 
crowd thickening round them, — a crowd, which if it had 
its will, would stiletto every soldier that pipes to it.f And 
in the recesses of the porches, all day long, knots of men 
of the lowest classes, unemployed and listless, lie basking 
in the sun like lizards; and unregarded children, — every 
heavy glance of their young eyes full of desperation and 
stony depravity, and their throats hoarse with cursing, — 
gamble, and fight, and snarl, and sleep, hour after hour, 
clashing their bruised centesimi upon the marble ledges of 
the church porch. And the images of Christ and His angels 
look down upon it continually. . . . 

Let us enter the church itself. It is lost in still deeper twi- 
light, to which the eye must be accustomed for some mo- 
ments before the form of the building can be traced; and 
then there opens before us a vast cave, hewn out into the 

* "And Jesus went into the temple of God . . . and overthrew the 

tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves" 

(Matt. 21:12). 

f Venice was under Austrian occupation when Ruskin wrote this 

passage. 



ST. MARK'S 169 

form of a Cross, and divided into shadowy aisles by many 
pillars. Round the domes of its roof the light enters only 
through narrow apertures like large stars; and here and 
there a ray or two from some far-away casement wanders 
into the darkness, and casts a narrow phosphoric stream 
upon the waves of marble that heave and fall in a thousand 
colours along the floor. What else there is of light is from 
torches, or silver lamps, burning ceaselessly in the recesses 
of the chapels; the roof sheeted with gold, and the polished 
walls covered with alabaster, give back at every curve and 
angle some feeble gleaming to the flames; and the glories 
round the heads of the sculptured saints flash out upon us 
as we pass them, and sink again into the gloom. Under foot 
and over head, a continual succession of crowded imagery, 
one picture passing into another, as in a dream; forms 
beautiful and terrible mixed together; dragons and serpents, 
and ravening beasts of prey, and graceful birds that in the 
midst of them drink from running fountains and feed from 
vases of crystal; the passions and the pleasures of human life 
symbolized together, and the mystery of its redemption; for 
the mazes of interwoven lines and changeful pictures lead 
always at last to the Cross, lifted and carved in every place 
and upon every stone; sometimes with the serpent of eter- 
nity wrapt round it, sometimes with doves beneath its arms, 
and sweet herbage growing forth from its feet; but con- 
spicuous most of all on the great rood that crosses the church 
before the altar, raised in bright blazonry against the shadow 
of the apse. And although in the recesses of the aisles and 
chapels, when the mist of the incense hangs heavily, we may 
see continually a figure traced in faint lines upon their mar- 
ble, a woman standing with her eyes raised to heaven, and 
the inscription above her, "Mother of God," she is not here 
the presiding deity. It is the Cross that is first seen, and al- 
ways, burning in the centre of the temple; and every dome 
and hollow of its roof has the figure of Christ in the utmost 
height of it, raised in power, or returning in judgment. 

[Vol. II, Chap. 4] 



170 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

The Nature of Gothic 

We are now about to enter upon the examination of that 
school of Venetian architecture which forms an intermediate 
step between the Byzantine and Gothic forms; but which I 
find may be conveniently considered in its connexion with 
the latter style. In order that we may discern the tendency 
of each step of this change, it will be wise in the outset to 
endeavour to form some general idea of its final result. We 
know already what the Byzantine architecture is from which 
the transition was made, but we ought to know something 
of the Gothic architecture into which it led. I shall en- 
deavour therefore to give the reader in this chapter an idea, 
at once broad and definite, of the true nature of Gothic 
architecture, properly so called; not of that of Venice only, 
but of universal Gothic: for it will be one of the most in- 
teresting parts of our subsequent inquiry to find out how far 
Venetian architecture reached the universal or perfect type 
of Gothic, and how far it either fell short of it, or assumed 
foreign and independent forms. 

The principal difficulty in doing this arises from the fact 
that every building of the Gothic period differs in some im- 
portant respect from every other; and many include features 
which, if they occurred in other buildings, would not be 
considered Gothic at all; so that all we have to reason upon 
is merely, if I may be allowed so to express it, a greater or 
less degree of Gothicness in each building we examine. And 
it is this Gothicness, — the character which, according as it is 
found more or less in a building, makes it more or less 
Gothic, — of which I want to define the nature. . . . That is 
to say, pointed arches do not constitute Gothic, nor vaulted 
roofs, nor flying buttresses, nor grotesque sculptures; but all 
or some of these things, and many other things with them, 
when they come together so as to have life. . . . 

We have, then, the Gothic character submitted to our 
analysis, just as the rough mineral is submitted to that of 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 171 

the chemist, entangled with many other foreign substances, 
itself perhaps in no place pure, or ever to be obtained or 
seen in purity for more than an instant; but nevertheless a 
thing of definite and separate nature, however inextricable 
or confused in appearance. Now observe: the chemist de- 
fines his mineral by two separate kinds of character; one 
external, its crystalline form, hardness, lustre, etc.; the other 
internal, the proportions and nature of its constituent atoms. 
Exactly in the same manner, we shall find that Gothic archi- 
tecture has external forms and internal elements. Its ele- 
ments are certain mental tendencies of the builders, legibly 
expressed in it; as fancifulness, love of variety, love of rich- 
ness, and such others. Its external forms are pointed arches, 
vaulted roofs, etc. And unless both the elements and the 
forms are there, we have no right to call the style Gothic. 
It is not enough that it has the Form, if it have not also the 
power and life. It is not enough that it has the Power, if it 
have not the form. We must therefore inquire into each 
of these characters successively; and determine first, what is 
the Mental Expression, and secondly, what the Material 
Form of Gothic architecture, properly so called. . . . 

I believe, then, that the characteristic or moral elements 
of Gothic are the following, placed in the order of their 
importance: 

1. Savageness. 4. Grotesqueness. 

2. Changefulness. 5. Rigidity. 

3. Naturalism. 6. Redundance. 

These characters are here expressed as belonging to the 
building; as belonging to the builder, they would be ex- 
pressed thus: — 1. Savageness or Rudeness. 2. Love of 
Change. 3. Love of Nature. 4. Disturbed Imagination. 
5. Obstinacy. 6. Generosity. And I repeat, that the with- 
drawal of any one, or any two, will not at once destroy the 
Gothic character of a building, but the removal of a major- 
ity of them will. I shall proceed to examine them in their 
order. 



172 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

(1.) Savageness. I am not sure when the word "Gothic" 
was first generically applied to the architecture of the 
North; but I presume that, whatever the date of its original 
usage, it was intended to imply reproach, and express the 
barbaric character of the nations among whom that archi- 
tecture arose. It never implied that they were literally of 
Gothic lineage, far less that their architecture had been 
originally invented by the Goths themselves; but it did 
imply that they and their buildings together exhibited a 
degree of sternness and rudeness, which, in contradistinc- 
tion to the character of Southern and Eastern nations, ap- 
peared like a perpetual reflection of the contrast between 
the Goth and the Roman in their first encounter. And 
when that fallen Roman, in the utmost impotence of his 
luxury, and insolence of his guilt, became the model for 
the imitation of civilized Europe, at the close of the so-called 
Dark ages, the word Gothic became a term of unmitigated 
contempt, not unmixed with aversion. From that contempt, 
by the exertion of the antiquaries and architects of this 
century, Gothic architecture has been sufficiently vindicated; 
and perhaps some among us, in our admiration of the mag- 
nificent science of its structure, and sacredness of its ex- 
pression, might desire that the term of ancient reproach 
should be withdrawn, and some other, of more apparent 
honourableness, adopted in its place. There is no chance, 
as there is no need, of such a substitution. As far as the 
epithet was used scornfully, it was used falsely; but there is 
no reproach in the word, rightly understood; on the con- 
trary, there is a profound truth, which the instinct of man- 
kind almost unconsciously recognizes. It is true, greatly 
and deeply true, that the architecture of the North is rude 
and wild; but it is not true, that, for this reason, we are to 
condemn it, or despise. Far otherwise: I believe it is in this 
very character that it deserves our profoundest reverence. 

The charts of the world which have been drawn up 
by modern science have thrown into a narrow space the 
expression of a vast amount of knowledge, but I have never 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 173 

yet seen any one pictorial enough to enable the spectator 
to imagine the kind of contrast in physical character which 
exists between Northern and Southern countries. We know 
the differences in detail, but we have not that broad glance 
and grasp which would enable us to feel them in their 
fulness. We know that gentians grow on the Alps, and 
olives on the Apennines; but we do not enough conceive 
for ourselves that variegated mosaic of the world's surface 
which a bird sees in its migration, that difference between 
the district of the gentian and of the olive which the stork 
and the swallow see far off, as they lean upon the sirocco 
wind. Let us, for a moment, try to raise ourselves even 
above the level of their flight, and imagine the Mediter- 
ranean lying beneath us like an irregular lake, and all its 
ancient promontories sleeping in the sun: here and there 
an angry spot of thunder, a grey stain of storm, moving 
upon the burning field; and here and there a fixed wreath 
of white volcano smoke, surrounded by its circle of ashes; 
but for the most part a great peacefulness of light, Syria 
and Greece, Italy and Spain, laid like pieces of a golden 
pavement into the sea-blue, chased, as we stoop nearer to 
them, with bossy beaten work of mountain chains, and 
glowing softly with terraced gardens, and flowers heavy 
with frankincense, mixed among masses of laurel, and 
orange, and plumy palm, that abate with their grey-green 
shadows the burning of the marble rocks, and of the ledges 
of porphyry sloping under lucent sand. Then let us pass 
farther towards the north, until we see the orient colours 
change gradually into a vast belt of rainy green, where the 
pastures of Switzerland, and poplar valleys of France, and 
dark forests of the Danube and Carpathians stretch from the 
mouths of the Loire to those of the Volga, seen through 
clefts in grey swirls of rain-cloud and flaky veils of the mist 
of the brooks, spreading low along the pasture lands: and 
then, farther north still, to see the earth heave into mighty 
masses of leaden rock and heathy moor, bordering with a 
broad waste of gloomy purple that belt of field and wood, 



174 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

and splintering into irregular and grisly islands amidst the 
northern seas, beaten by storm, and chilled by ice-drift, and 
tormented by furious pulses of contending tide, until the 
roots of the last forests fail from among the hill ravines, and 
the hunger of the north wind bites their peaks into barren- 
ness; and, at last, the wall of ice, durable like iron, sets, 
deathlike, its white teeth against us out of the polar twilight. 
And, having once traversed in thought this gradation of the 
zoned iris of the earth in all its material vastness, let us go 
down nearer to it, and watch the parallel change in the 
belt of animal life; the multitudes of swift and brilliant 
creatures that glance in the air and sea, or tread the sands of 
the southern zone; striped zebras and spotted leopards, glis- 
tening serpents, and birds arrayed in purple and scarlet. 
Let us contrast their delicacy and brilliancy of colour, and 
swiftness of motion, with the frost-cramped strength, and 
shaggy covering, and dusky plumage of the northern tribes; 
contrast the Arabian horse with the Shetland, the tiger and 
leopard with the wolf and bear, the antelope with the elk, 
the bird of paradise with the osprey; and then, submissively 
acknowledging the great laws by which the earth and all 
that it bears are ruled throughout their being, let us not 
condemn, but rejoice in the expression by man of his own 
rest in the statutes of the lands that gave him birth. Let us 
watch him with reverence as he sets side by side the burning 
gems, and smooths with soft sculpture the jasper pillars, that 
are to reflect a ceaseless sunshine, and rise into a cloudless 
sky: but not with less reverence let us stand by him, when, 
with rough strength and hurried stroke, he smites an un- 
couth animation out of the rocks which he has torn from 
among the moss of the moorland, and heaves into the dark- 
ened air the pile of iron buttress and rugged wall, instinct 
with work of an imagination as wild and wayward as the 
northern sea; creatures of ungainly shape and rigid limb, 
but full of wolfish life; fierce as the wind that beat, and 
changeful as the clouds that shade them. 

There is, I repeat, no degradation, no reproach in this, 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 175 

but all dignity and honourableness: and we should err 
grievously in refusing either to recognize as an essential 
character of the existing architecture of the North, or to 
admit as a desirable character in that which it yet may be, 
this wildness of thought, and roughness of work; this look 
of mountain brotherhood between the cathedral and the 
Alp; this magnificence of sturdy power, put forth only the 
more energetically because the fine finger-touch was chilled 
away by the frosty wind, and the eye dimmed by the moor- 
mist, or blinded by the hail; this out-speaking of the strong 
spirit of men who may not gather redundant fruitage from 
the earth, nor bask in dreamy benignity of sunshine, but 
must break the rock for bread, and cleave the forest for 
fire, and show, even in what they did for their delight, some 
of the hard habits of the arm and heart that grew on them 
as they swung the axe or pressed the plough. 

If, however, the savageness of Gothic architecture, merely 
as an expression of its origin among Northern nations, may 
be considered, in some sort, a noble character, it possesses 
a higher nobility still, when considered as an index, not of 
climate, but of religious principle. 

In the 13th and 14th paragraphs of Chapter XXI. of the 
first volume of this work, it was noticed that the systems 
of architectural ornament, properly so called, might be 
divided into three: — 1. Servile ornament, in which the ex- 
ecution or power of the inferior workman is entirely sub- 
jected to the intellect of the higher; — 2. Constitutional 
ornament, in which the executive inferior power is, to a 
certain point, emancipated and independent, having a will 
of its own, yet confessing its inferiority and rendering 
obedience to higher powers; — and 3. Revolutionary orna- 
ment, in which no executive inferiority is admitted at all. 
I must here explain the nature of these divisions at some- 
what greater length. 

Of Servile ornament, the principal schools are the Greek, 
Ninevite, and Egyptian; but their servility is of different 
kinds. The Greek master-workman was far advanced in 



176 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

knowledge and power above the Assyrian or Egyptian. 
Neither he nor those for whom he worked could endure the 
appearance of imperfection in anything; and, therefore, 
what ornament he appointed to be done by those beneath 
him was composed of mere geometrical forms, — balls, ridges, 
and perfectly symmetrical foliage, — which could be exe- 
cuted with absolute precision by line and rule, and were as 
perfect in their way, when completed, as his own figure 
sculpture. The Assyrian and Egyptian, on the contrary, less 
cognisant of accurate form in anything, were content to 
allow their figure sculpture to be executed by inferior work- 
men, but lowered the method of its treatment to a standard 
which every workman could reach, and then trained him 
by discipline so rigid, that there was no chance of his falling 
beneath the standard appointed. The Greek gave to the 
lower workman no subject which he could not perfectly 
execute. The Assyrian gave him subjects which he could 
only execute imperfectly, but fixed a legal standard for his 
imperfection. The workman was, in both systems, a slave. 
But in the mediaeval, or especially Christian, system of 
ornament, this slavery is done away with altogether; Chris- 
tianity having recognized, in small things as well as great, 
the individual value of every soul. But it not only recog- 
nizes its value; it confesses its imperfection, in only bestow- 
ing dignity upon the acknowledgment of unworthiness. 
That admission of lost power and fallen nature, which the 
Greek or Ninevite felt to be intensely painful, and, as far 
as might be, altogether refused, the Christian makes daily 
and hourly, contemplating the fact of it without fear, as 
tending, in the end, to God's greater glory. Therefore, to 
every spirit which Christianity summons to her service, her 
exhortation is: Do what you can, and confess frankly what 
you are unable to do; neither let your effort be shortened 
for fear of failure, nor your confession silenced for fear 
of shame. And it is, perhaps, the principal admirableness of 
the Gothic schools of architecture, that they thus receive the 
results of the labour of inferior minds; and out of fragments 
full of imperfection, and betraying that imperfection in 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 177 

every touch, indulgently raise up a stately and unaccusable 
whole. 

But the modern English mind has this much in common 
with that of the Greek, that it intensely desires, in all things, 
the utmost completion or perfection compatible with their 
nature. This is a noble character in the abstract, but be- 
comes ignoble when it causes us to forget the relative dig- 
nities of that nature itself, and to prefer the perfectness of 
the lower nature to the imperfection of the higher; not con- 
sidering that as, judged by such a rule, all the brute animals 
would be preferable to man, because more perfect in their 
functions and kind. . . . And therefore, while in all things 
that we see or do, we are to desire perfection, and strive for 
it, we are nevertheless not to set the meaner thing, in its nar- 
row accomplishment, above the nobler thing, in its mighty 
progress; not to esteem smooth minuteness above shattered 
majesty; not to prefer mean victory to honourable defeat; 
not to lower the level of our aim, that we may the more 
surely enjoy the complacency of success. But, above all, in 
our dealings with the souls of other men, we are to take 
care how we check, by severe requirement or narrow cau- 
tion, efforts which might otherwise lead to a noble issue. . . . 

And observe, you are put to stern choice in this matter. 
You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of 
him. You cannot make both. Men were not intended to 
work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect 
in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of 
them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog- 
wheels, and their arms strike curves like compasses, you 
must unhumanize them. All the energy of their spirits must 
be given to make cogs and compasses of themselves. All their 
attention and strength must go to the accomplishment of 
the mean act. The eye of the soul must be bent upon the 
finger-point, and the soul's force must fill all the invisible 
nerves that guide it, ten hours a day, that it may not err 
from its steely precision, and so soul and sight be worn 
away, and the whole human being be lost at last — a heap 
of sawdust, so far as its intellectual work in this world is 



178 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

concerned: saved only by its Heart, which cannot go into 
the form of cogs and compasses, but expands, after the ten 
hours are over, into fireside humanity. On the other hand, 
if you will make a man of the working creature, you can- 
not make a tool. Let him but begin to imagine, to think, 
to try to do anything worth doing; and the engine-turned 
precision is lost at once. Out come all his roughness, all his 
dulness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure 
upon failure, pause after pause: but out comes the whole 
majesty of him also; and we know the height of it only 
when we see the clouds settling upon him. And, whether 
the clouds be bright or dark, there will be transfiguration 
behind and within them. 

And now, reader, look round this English room of yours, 
about which you have been proud so often, because the 
work of it was so good and strong, and the ornaments of it 
so finished. Examine again all those accurate mouldings, and 
perfect polishings, and unerring adjustments of the seasoned 
wood and tempered steel. Many a time you have exulted 
over them, and thought how great England was, because 
her slightest work was done so thoroughly. Alas! if read 
rightly, these perfectnesses are signs of a slavery in our 
England a thousand times more bitter and more degrading 
than that of the scourged African, or helot Greek. Men may 
be beaten, chained, tormented, yoked like cattle, slaugh- 
tered like summer flies, and yet remain in one sense, and the 
best sense, free. But to smother their souls with them, to 
blight and hew into rotting pollards the suckling branches 
of their human intelligence, to make the flesh and skin 
which, after the worm's work on it, is to see God, into 
leathern thongs to yoke machinery with, — this is to be 
slave-masters indeed; and there might be more freedom in 
England, though her feudal lords' lightest words were worth 
men's lives, and though the blood of the vexed husband- 
man dropped in the furrows of her fields, than there is 
while the animation of her multitudes is sent like fuel to 
feed the factory smoke, and the strength of them is given 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 179, 

daily to be wasted into the fineness of a web, or racked into 
the exactness of a line. 

And, on the other hand, go forth again to gaze upon the 
old cathedral front, where you have smiled so often at the 
fantastic ignorance of the old sculptors: examine once more 
those ugly goblins, and formless monsters, and stern statues, 
anatomiless and rigid; but do not mock at them, for they 
are signs of the life and liberty of every workman who 
struck the stone; a freedom of thought, and rank in scale 
of being, such as no laws, no charters, no charities can 
secure; but which it must be the first aim of all Europe 
at this day to regain for her children. 

Let me not be thought to speak wildly or extravagantly. 
It is verily this degradation of the operative into a machine, 
which, more than any other evil of the times, is leading 
the mass of the nations everywhere into vain, incoherent, 
destructive struggling for a freedom of which they cannot 
explain the nature to themselves. Their universal outcry 
against wealth, and against nobility, is not forced from them 
either by the pressure of famine, or the sting of mortified 
pride. These do much, and have done much in all ages; but 
the foundations of society were never yet shaken as they are 
at this day. It is not that men are ill fed, but that they have 
no pleasure in the work by which they make their bread, 
and therefore look to wealth as the only means of pleasure. 
It is not that men are pained by the scorn of the upper 
classes, but they cannot endure their own; for they feel that 
the kind of labour to which they are condemned is verily 
a degrading one, and makes them less than men. Never 
had the upper classes so much sympathy with the lower, or 
charity for them, as they have at this day, and yet never 
were they so much hated by them: for, of old, the separa- 
tion between the noble and the poor was merely a wall 
built by law; now it is a veritable difference in level of 
standing, a precipice between upper and lower grounds in 
the field of humanity, and there is pestilential air at the 
bottom of it. . . . 



180 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

We have much studied and much perfected, of late, the 
great civilized invention of the division of labour; only we 
give it a false name. It is not, truly speaking, the labour that 
is divided; but the men: — Divided into mere segments of 
men — broken into small fragments and crumbs of life; so 
that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in a man 
is not enough to make a pin, or a nail, but exhausts itself in 
making the point of a pin or the head of a nail. Now it is 
a good and desirable thing, truly, to make many pins in a 
day; but if we could only see with what crystal sand their 
points were polished, — sand of human soul, much to be 
magnified before it can be discerned for what it is — we 
should think there might be some loss in it also. And the 
great cry that rises from all our manufacturing cities, louder 
than their furnace blast, is all in very deed for this, — that 
we manufacture everything there except men; we blanch 
cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape 
pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to 
form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate 
of advantages. And all the evil to which that cry is urging 
our myriads can be met only in one way: not by teaching 
nor preaching, for to teach them is but to show them their 
misery, and to preach to them, if we do nothing more than 
preach, is to mock at it. It can be met only by a right under- 
standing, on the part of all classes, of what kinds of labour 
are good for men, raising them, and making them happy; 
by a determined sacrifice of such convenience, or beauty, or 
cheapness as is to be got only by the degradation of the 
workman; and by equally determined demand for the 
products and results of healthy and ennobling labour. 

And how, it will be asked, are these products to be recog- 
nized, and this demand to be regulated? Easily: by the ob- 
servance of three broad and simple rules: 

1. Never encourage the manufacture of any article not 
absolutely necessary, in the production of which Invention 
has no share. 

2. Never demand an exact finish for its own sake, but 
only for some practical or noble end. 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 181 

3. Never encourage imitation or copying of any kind, 
except for the sake of preserving records of great works. 

The second of these principles is the only one which di- 
rectly rises out of the consideration of our immediate sub- 
ject; but I shall briefly explain the meaning and extent of 
the first also, reserving the enforcement of the third for 
another place. 

1. Never encourage the manufacture of anything not 
necessary, in the production of which invention has no 
share. 

For instance. Glass beads are utterly unnecessary, and 
there is no design or thought employed in their manufac- 
ture. They are formed by first drawing out the glass into 
rods; these rods are chopped up into fragments of the size 
of beads by the human hand, and the fragments are then 
rounded in the furnace. The men who chop up the rods 
sit at their work all day, their hands vibrating with a per- 
petual and exquisitely timed palsy, and the beads dropping 
beneath their vibration like hail. Neither they, nor the men 
who draw out the rods or fuse the fragments, have the 
smallest occasion for the use of any single human faculty; 
and every young lady, therefore, who buys glass beads is 
engaged in the slave-trade, and in a much more cruel one 
than that which we have so long been endeavouring to put 
down. 

But glass cups and vessels may become the subjects of 
exquisite invention; and if in buying these we pay for the 
invention, that is to say, for the beautiful form, or colour, 
or engraving, and not for mere finish of execution, we are 
doing good to humanity. . . . 

On a large scale, and in work determinable by line and 
rule, it is indeed both possible and necessary that the 
thoughts of one man should be carried out by the labour 
of others; in this sense I have already defined the best archi- 
tecture to be the expression of the mind of manhood by the 
hands of childhood. But on a smaller scale, and in a de- 
sign which cannot be mathematically defined, one man's 
thoughts can never be expressed by another: and the dif- 



182 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

ference between the spirit of touch of the man who is in- 
venting, and of the man who is obeying directions, is often 
all the difference between a great and a common work of 
art. How wide the separation is between original and 
second-hand execution, I shall endeavour to show else- 
where; it is not so much to our purpose here as to mark the 
other and more fatal error of despising manual labour 
when governed by intellect; for it is no less fatal an error 
to despise it when thus regulated by intellect, than to value 
it for its own sake. We are always in these days endeavouring 
to separate the two; we want one man to be always think- 
ing, and another to be always working, and we call one a 
gentleman, and the other an operative; whereas the work- 
man ought often to be thinking, and the thinker often to be 
working, and both should be gentlemen, in the best sense. 
As it is, we make both ungentle, the one envying, the other 
despising, his brother; and the mass of society is made up 
of morbid thinkers, and miserable workers. Now it is only 
by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by 
thought that labour can be made happy, and the two cannot 
be separated with impunity. . . . 

I should be led far from the matter in hand, if I were 
to pursue this interesting subject. Enough, I trust, has been 
said to show the reader that the rudeness or imperfection 
which at first rendered the term "Gothic" one of reproach 
is indeed, when rightly understood, one of the most noble 
characters of Christian architecture, and not only a noble 
but an essential one. It seems a fantastic paradox, but it is 
nevertheless a most important truth, that no architecture 
can be truly noble which is not imperfect. And this is easily 
demonstrable. For since the architect, whom we will sup- 
pose capable of doing all in perfection, cannot execute the 
whole with his own hands, he must either make slaves of his 
workmen in the old Greek, and present English fashion, and 
level his work to a slave's capacities, which is to degrade it; 
or else he must take his workmen as he finds them, and let 
them show their weaknesses together with their strength, 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 183 

which will involve the Gothic imperfection, but render the 
whole work as noble as the intellect of the age can make it. 

But the principle may be stated more broadly still. I 
have confined the illustration of it to architecture, but I 
must not leave it as if true of architecture only. Hitherto 
I have used the words imperfect and perfect merely to dis- 
tinguish between work grossly unskilful, and work executed 
with average precision and science; and I have been plead- 
ing that any degree of unskilfulness should be admitted, so 
only that the labourer's mind had room for expression. But, 
accurately speaking, no good work whatever can be perfect, 
and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a mis- 
understanding of the ends of art. 

This for two reasons, both based on everlasting laws. The 
first, that no great man ever stops working till he has 
reached his point of failure: that is to say, his mind is always 
far in advance of his powers of execution, and the latter will 
now and then give way in trying to follow it; besides that 
he will always give to the inferior portions of his work only 
such inferior attention as they require; and according to 
his greatness he becomes so accustomed to the feeling of 
dissatisfaction with the best he can do, that in moments 
of lassitude or anger with himself he will not care though 
the beholder be dissatisfied also. I believe there has only 
been one man who would not acknowledge this necessity, 
and strove always to reach perfection, Leonardo; the end 
of his vain effort being merely that he would take ten years 
to a picture and leave it unfinished. And therefore, if we 
are to have great men working at all, or less men doing 
their best, the work will be imperfect, however beautiful. 
Of human work none but what is bad can be perfect, in its 
own bad way.* 

The second reason is, that imperfection is in some sort 

* The Elgin marbles are supposed by many persons to be "perfect." 
In the most important portions they indeed approach perfection, but 
only there. The draperies are unfinished, the hair and wool of the 
animals are unfinished, and the entire bas-reliefs of the frieze are 
roughly cut. [Ruskin's note.] 



184 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in 
a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and 
change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part 
of it is decaying, part nascent. The foxglove blossom, — a 
third part bud, a third part past, a third part in full bloom, 
— is a type of the life of this world. And in all things that 
live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which 
are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty. No human 
face is exactly the same in its lines on each side, no leaf 
perfect in its lobes, no branch in its symmetry. All admit 
irregularity as they imply change; and to banish imperfec- 
tion is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze 
vitality. All things are literally better, lovelier, and more 
beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely ap- 
pointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the 
law of human judgment, Mercy. 

Accept this then for a universal law, that neither archi- 
tecture nor any other noble work of man can be good unless 
it be imperfect; and let us be prepared for the otherwise 
strange fact, which we shall discern clearly as we approach 
the period of the Renaissance, that the first cause of the 
fall of the arts of Europe was a relentless requirement of 
perfection, incapable alike either of being silenced by 
veneration for greatness, or softened into forgiveness of 
simplicity. 

Thus far then of the Rudeness or Savageness, which is 
the first mental element of Gothic architecture. It is an 
element in many other healthy architectures also, as the 
Byzantine and Romanesque; but true Gothic cannot exist 
without it. 

The second mental element above named was Change- 
fulness, or Variety. 

I have already enforced the allowing independent opera- 
tion to the inferior workman, simply as a duty to him, and 
as ennobling the architecture by rendering it more Chris- 
tian. We have now to consider what reward we obtain for 
the performance of this duty, namely, the perpetual variety 
of every feature of the building. 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 185 

Wherever the workman is utterly enslaved, the parts of 
the building must of course be absolutely like each other; 
for the perfection of his execution can only be reached by 
exercising him in doing one thing, and giving him nothing 
else to do. The degree in which the workman is degraded 
may be thus known at a glance, by observing whether the 
several parts of the building are similar or not; and if, as in 
Greek work, all the capitals are alike, and all the mouldings 
unvaried, then the degradation is complete; if, as in Egyp- 
tian or Ninevite work, though the manner of executing cer- 
tain figures is always the same, the order of design is per- 
petually varied, the degradation is less total; if, as in Gothic 
work, there is perpetual change both in design and execu- 
tion, the workman must have been altogether set free. 

How much the beholder gains from the liberty of the 
labourer may perhaps be questioned in England, where one 
of the strongest instincts in nearly every mind is that Love 
of Order which makes us desire that our house windows 
should pair like our carriage horses, and allows us to yield 
our faith unhesitatingly to architectural theories which fix 
a form for everything, and forbid variation from it. I would 
not impeach love of order: it is one of the most useful ele- 
ments of the English mind; it helps us in our commerce 
and in all purely practical matters; and it is in many cases 
one of the foundation stones of morality. Only do not let us 
suppose that love of order is love of art. It is true that order, 
in its highest sense, is one of the necessities of art, just as 
time is a necessity of music; but love of order has no more 
to do with our right enjoyment of architecture or painting, 
than love of punctuality with the appreciation of an opera. 
Experience, I fear, teaches us that accurate and methodical 
habits in daily life are seldom characteristic of those who 
either quickly perceive, or richly possess, the creative powers 
of art; there is, however, nothing inconsistent between the 
two instincts, and nothing to hinder us from retaining our 
business habits, and yet fully allowing and enjoying the 
noblest gifts of Invention. We already do so, in every other 
branch of art except architecture, and we only do not so 



186 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

there because we have been taught that it would be wrong. 
Our architects gravely inform us that, as there are four rules 
of arithmetic, there are five orders of architecture; we, in 
our simplicity, think that this sounds consistent, and believe 
them. They inform us also that there is one proper form 
for Corinthian capitals, another for Doric, and another for 
Ionic. We, considering that there is also a proper form for 
the letters A, B, and C, think that this also sounds consistent, 
and accept the proposition. Understanding, therefore, that 
one form of the said capitals is proper, and no other, and 
having a conscientious horror of all impropriety, we allow 
the architect to provide us with the said capitals, of the 
proper form, in such and such a quantity, and in all other 
points to take care that the legal forms are observed; which 
having done, we rest in forced confidence that we are well 
housed. 

But our higher instincts are not deceived. We take no 
pleasure in the building provided for us, resembling that 
which we take in a new book or a new picture. We may be 
proud of its size, complacent in its correctness, and happy in 
its convenience. We may take the same pleasure in its sym- 
metry and workmanship as in a well-ordered room, or a 
skilful piece of manufacture. And this we suppose to be all 
the pleasure that architecture was ever intended to give us. 
The idea of reading a building as we would read Milton 
or Dante, and getting the same kind of delight out of the 
stones as out of the stanzas, never enters our mind for a 
moment. And for good reason; — There is indeed rhythm 
in the verses, quite as strict as the symmetries or rhythm 
of the architecture, and a thousand times more beautiful, 
but there is something else than rhythm. The verses were 
neither made to order, nor to match, as the capitals were; 
and we have therefore a kind of pleasure in them other than 
a sense of propriety. But it requires a strong effort of com- 
mon sense to shake ourselves quit of all that we have been 
taught for the last two centuries, and wake to the perception 
of a truth just as simple and certain as it is new: that great 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 187 

art, whether expressing itself in words, colours, or stones, 
does not say the same thing over and over again; that the 
merit of architectural, as of every other art, consists in its 
saying new and different things; that to repeat itself is no 
more a characteristic of genius in marble than it is of genius 
in print; and that we may, without offending any laws of 
good taste, require of an architect, as we do of a novelist, 
that he should be not only correct, but entertaining. . . . 

And this we confess in deeds, though not in words. All the 
pleasure which the people of the nineteenth century take 
in art, is in pictures, sculpture, minor objects of virtu, or 
mediaeval architecture, which we enjoy under the term pic- 
turesque: no pleasure is taken anywhere in modern build- 
ings, and we find all men of true feeling delighting to 
escape out of modern cities into natural scenery: hence, as 
I shall hereafter show, that peculiar love of landscape, which 
is characteristic of the age. It would be well, if in all other 
matters, we were as ready to put up with what we dislike, 
for the sake of compliance with established law, as we are 
in architecture. 

How so debased a law came to be established, we shall 
see when we come to describe the Renaissance schools; here 
we have only to note, as a second most essential element of 
the Gothic spirit, that it broke through that law wherever 
it found it in existence; it not only dared, but delighted in, 
the infringement of every servile principle; and invented a 
series of forms of which the merit was, not merely that they 
were new, but that they were capable of perpetual novelty. 
The pointed arch was not merely a bold variation from the 
round, but it admitted of millions of variations in itself; 
for the proportions of a pointed arch are changeable to 
infinity, while a circular arch is always the same. The 
grouped shaft was not merely a bold variation from the 
single one, but it admitted of millions of variations in its 
grouping, and in the proportions resultant from its group- 
ing. The introduction of tracery was not only a startling 
change in the treatment of window lights, but admitted 



188 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

endless changes in the interlacement of the tracery bars 
themselves. So that, while in all living Christian archi- 
tecture the love of variety exists, the Gothic schools ex- 
hibited that love in culminating energy; and their influ- 
ence, wherever it extended itself, may be sooner and farther 
traced by this character than by any other; the tendency 
to the adoption of Gothic types being always first shown by 
greater irregularity, and richer variation in the forms of 
architecture it is about to supersede, long before the ap- 
pearance of the pointed arch or of any other recognizable 
outward sign of the Gothic mind. . . . 

From these facts we may gather generally that monotony 
is, and ought to be, in itself painful to us, just as darkness 
is; that an architecture which is altogether monotonous is 
a dark or dead architecture; and of those who love it, it 
may be truly said, "they love darkness rather than light." 
But monotony in certain measure, used in order to give 
value to change, and above all, that transparent monotony, 
which, like the shadows of a great painter, suffers all man- 
ner of dimly suggested form to be seen through the body 
of it, is an essential in architectural as in all other compo- 
sition; and the endurance of monotony has about the same 
place in a healthy mind that the endurance of darkness has: 
that is to say, as a strong intellect will have pleasure in the 
solemnities of storm and twilight, and in the oroken and 
mysterious lights that gleam among them, rather than in 
mere brilliancy and glare, while a frivolous mind will dread 
the shadow and the storm; and as a great man will be ready 
to endure much darkness of fortune in order to reach 
greater eminence of power or felicity, while an inferior man 
will not pay the price; exactly in like manner a great mind 
will accept, or even delight in, monotony which would be 
wearisome to an inferior intellect, because it has more pa- 
tience and power of expectation, and is ready to pay the full 
price for the great future pleasure of change. But in all 
cases it is not that the noble nature loves monotony, any 
more than it loves darkness or pain. But it can bear with 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 189 

it, and receive a high pleasure in the endurance or patience, 
a pleasure necessary to the well-being o£ this world; while 
those who will not submit to the temporary sameness, but 
rush from one change to another, gradually dull the edge 
of change itself, and bring a shadow and weariness over 
the whole world from which there is no more escape. 

From these general uses of variety in the economy of the 
world, we may at once understand its use and abuse in 
architecture. The variety of the Gothic schools is the more 
healthy and beautiful, because in many cases it is entirely 
unstudied, and results, not from mere love of change, but 
from practical necessities. For in one point of view Gothic 
is not only the best, but the only rational architecture, as 
being that which can fit itself most easily to all services, 
vulgar or noble. Undefined in its slope of roof, height of 
shaft, breadth of arch, or disposition of ground plan, it can 
shrink into a turret, expand into a hall, coil into a stair- 
case, or spring into a spire, with undegraded grace and un- 
exhausted energy; and whenever it finds occasion for change 
in its form or purpose, it submits to it without the slightest 
sense of loss either to its unity or majesty, — subtle and flexi- 
ble like a fiery serpent, but ever attentive to the voice of the 
charmer. And it is one of the chief virtues of the Gothic 
builders, that they never suffered ideas of outside sym- 
metries and consistencies to interfere with the real use and 
value of what they did. If they wanted a window, they 
opened one; a room, they added one; a buttress, they built 
one; utterly regardless of any established conventionalities 
of external appearance, knowing (as indeed it always hap- 
pened) that such daring interruptions of the formal plan 
would rather give additional interest to its symmetry than 
injure it. So that, in the best times of Gothic, a useless win- 
dow would rather have been opened in an unexpected place 
for the sake of the surprise, than a useful one forbidden 
for the sake of symmetry. Every successive architect, em- 
ployed upon a great work, built the pieces he added in his 
own way, utterly regardless of the style adopted by his pred- 



190 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

ecessors; and if two towers were raised in nominal cor- 
respondence at the sides of a cathedral front, one was nearly 
sure to be different from the other, and in each the style 
at the top to be different from the style at the bottom. . . . 
A picture or poem is often little more than a feeble utter- 
ance of man's admiration of something out of himself; but 
architecture approaches more to a creation of his own, born 
of his necessities, and expressive of his nature. It is also, in 
some sort, the work of the whole race, while the picture or 
statue is the work of one only, in most cases more highly 
gifted than his fellows. And therefore we may expect that 
the first two elements of good architecture should be ex- 
pressive of some great truths commonly belonging to the 
whole race, and necessary to be understood or felt by them 
in all their work that they do under the sun. And observe 
what they are: the confession of Imperfection, and the con- 
fession of Desire of Change. The building of the bird and 
the bee needs not express anything like this. It is perfect 
and unchanging. But just because we are something better 
than birds or bees, our building must confess that we have 
not reached the perfection we can imagine, and cannot rest 
in the condition we have attained. If we pretend to have 
reached either perfection or satisfaction, we have degraded 
ourselves and our work. God's work only may express that; 
but ours may never have that sentence written upon it, — 
"And behold, it was very good." And, observe again, it is not 
merely as it renders the edifice a book of various knowledge, 
or a mine of precious thought, that variety is essential to its 
nobleness. The vital principle is not the lOve of Knowledge;, 
but the love of Change. It is that strange disquietude of the 
Gothic spirit that is its greatness; that restlessness of the 
dreaming mind, that wanders hither and thither among 
the niches, and flickers feverishly around the pinnacles, and 
frets and fades in labyrinthine knots and shadows along 
wall and roof, and yet is not satisfied, nor shall be satisfied. 
The Greek could stay in his triglyph furrow, and be at 
peace; but the work of the Gothic heart is fretwork still, 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 191 

and it can neither rest in, nor from, its labour, but must 
pass on, sleeplessly, until its love of change shall be pacified 
for ever in the change that must come alike on them that 
wake and them that sleep. 

The third constituent element of the Gothic mind was 
stated to be Naturalism; that is to say, the love of natural 
objects for their own sake, and the effort to represent them 
frankly, unconstrained by artistical laws. 

This characteristic of the style partly follows in necessary 
connection with those named above. For, so soon as the 
workman is left free to represent what subjects he chooses, 
he must look to the nature that is round him for material, 
and will endeavour to represent it as he sees it, with more 
or less accuracy according to the skill he possesses, and with 
much play of fancy, but with small respect for law. There is, 
however, a marked distinction between the imaginations of 
the Western and Eastern races, even when both are left 
free; the Western, or Gothic, delighting most in the repre- 
sentation of facts, and the Eastern (Arabian, Persian, and 
Chinese) in the harmony of colours and forms. Each of these 
intellectual dispositions has its particular forms of error and 
abuse. . . . 

Of the various forms of resultant mischief it is not here 
the place to speak; the reader may already be somewhat 
wearied with a statement which has led us apparently so 
far from our immediate subject. But the digression was 
necessary, in order that I might clearly define the sense in 
which I use the word Naturalism when I state it to be the 
third most essential characteristic of Gothic architecture. 
I mean that the Gothic builders belong to the central or 
greatest rank in both the classifications of artists which we 
have just made; that considering all artists as either men 
of design, men of facts, or men of both, the Gothic builders 
were men of both; and that again, considering all artists as 
either Purists, Naturalists, or Sensualists, the Gothic builders 
were Naturalists. 

I say first, that the Gothic builders were of that central 



192 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

class which unites fact with design; but that the part of the 
work which was more especially their own was the truthful- 
ness. Their power of artistical invention or arrangement was 
not greater than that of Romanesque and Byzantine work- 
men: by those workmen they were taught the principles, 
and from them received their models, of design; but to the 
ornamental feeling and rich fancy of the Byzantine the 
Gothic builder added a love of fact which is never found in 
the South. Both Greek and Roman used conventional foli- 
age in their ornament, passing into something that was not 
foliage at all, knotting itself into strange cup-like buds or 
clusters, and growing out of lifeless rods instead of stems; 
the Gothic sculptor received these types, at first, as things 
that ought to be, just as we have a second time received 
them; but he could not rest in them. He saw there was no 
veracity in them, no knowledge, no vitality. Do what he 
would, he could not help liking the true leaves better; and 
cautiously, a little at a time, he put more of nature into his 
work, until at last it was all true, retaining, nevertheless, 
every valuable character of the original well-disciplined 
and designed arrangement. . . . 

There is, however, one direction in which the Naturalism 
of the Gothic workmen is peculiarly manifested; and this 
direction is even more characteristic of the school than 
the Naturalism itself; I mean their peculiar fondness for the 
forms of Vegetation. ... I have before alluded to the 
strange and vain supposition, that the original conception 
of Gothic architecture had been derived from vegetation, — 
from the symmetry of avenues, and the interlacing of 
branches. It is a supposition which never could have existed 
for a moment in the mind of any person acquainted with 
early Gothic; but, however idle as a theory, it is most valua- 
ble as a testimony to the character of the perfected style. 
It is precisely because the reverse of this theory is the fact, 
because the Gothic did not arise out of, but develope itself 
into, a resemblance to vegetation, that this resemblance is 
so instructive as an indication of the temper of the builders. 
It was no chance suggestion of the form of an arch from the 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 193 

bending of a bough, but a gradual and continual discovery 
of a beauty in natural forms which could be more and more 
perfectly transferred into those of stone, that influenced at 
once the heart of the people, and the form of the edifice. 
The Gothic architecture arose in massy and mountainous 
strength, axe-hewn, and iron-bound, block heaved upon 
block by the monk's enthusiasm and the soldier's force; and 
cramped and stanchioned into such weight of grisly wall, 
as might bury the anchoret in darkness, and beat back the 
utmost storm of battle, suffering but by the same narrow 
crosslet the passing of the sunbeam, or of the arrow. Grad- 
ually, as that monkish enthusiasm became more thoughtful, 
and as the sound of war became more and more intermit- 
tent beyond the gates of the convent or the keep, the stony 
pillar grew slender and the vaulted roof grew light, till they 
had wreathed themselves into the semblance of the summer 
woods at their fairest, and of the dead field-flowers, long 
trodden down in blood, sweet monumental statues were set 
to bloom for ever, beneath the porch of the temple, or the 
canopy of the tomb. . . . 

The fourth essential element of the Gothic mind was 
above stated to be the sense of the Grotesque; but I shall 
defer the endeavour to define this most curious and subtle 
character until we have occasion to examine one of the 
divisions of the Renaissance schools, which was morbidly 
influenced by it (Vol. III. Chap. III. ["Grotesque Renais- 
sance"]). It is the less necessary to insist upon it here, be- 
cause every reader familiar with Gothic architecture must 
understand what I mean, and will, I believe, have no hesita- 
tion in admitting, that the tendency to delight in fantastic 
and ludicrous, as well as in sublime, images, is a universal 
instinct of the Gothic imagination. 

The fifth element above named was Rigidity; and this 
character I must endeavour carefully to define, for neither 
the word I have used, nor any other that I can think of, 
will express it accurately. For I mean, not merely stable, 
but active rigidity; the peculiar energy which gives tension 
to movement, and stiffness to resistance, which makes the 



194 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

fiercest lightning forked rather than curved, and the stoutest 
oak-branch angular rather than bending, and is as much 
seen in the quivering of the lance as in the glittering of the 
icicle. 

I have before had occasion ... to note some manifesta- 
tions of this energy or fixedness; but it must be still more 
attentively considered here, as it shows itself throughout the 
whole structure and decoration of Gothic work. Egyptian 
and Greek buildings stand, for the most part, by their own 
weight and mass, one stone passively incumbent on another; 
but in the Gothic vaults and traceries there is a stiffness 
analogous to that of the bones of a limb, or fibres of a tree; 
an elastic tension and communication of force from part to 
part, and also a studious expression of this throughout every 
visible line of the building. And, in like manner, the Greek 
and Egyptian ornament is either mere surface engraving, as 
if the face of the wall had been stamped with a seal, or its 
lines are flowing, lithe, and luxuriant; in either case, there 
is no expression of energy in the framework of the orna- 
ment itself. But the Gothic ornament stands out in prickly 
independence, and frosty fortitude, jutting into crockets, 
and freezing into pinnacles; here starting up into a mon- 
ster, there germinating into a blossom, anon knitting itself 
into a branch, alternately thorny, bossy, and bristly, or 
writhed into every form of nervous entanglement; but, 
even when most graceful, never for an instant languid, 
always quickset: erring, if at all, ever on the side of 
brusquerie. . . . 

Last, because the least essential, of the constituent ele- 
ments of this noble school, was placed that of Redundance, 
— the uncalculating bestowal of the wealth of its labour. 
There is, indeed, much Gothic, and that of the best period, 
in which this element is hardly traceable, and which de- 
pends for its effect almost exclusively on loveliness of simple 
design and grace of uninvolved proportion: still, in the 
most characteristic buildings, a certain portion of their 
effect depends upon accumulation of ornament; and many 
of those which have most influence on the minds of men, 



THE NATURE OF GOTHIC 195 

have attained it by means of this attribute alone. And al- 
though, by careful study of the school, it is possible to ar- 
rive at a condition of taste which shall be better contented 
by a few perfect lines than by a whole facade covered with 
fretwork, the building which only satisfies such a taste is 
not to be considered the best. For the very first requirement 
of Gothic architecture being, as we saw above, that it shall 
both admit the aid, and appeal to the admiration, of the 
rudest as well as the most refined minds, the richness of the 
work is, paradoxical as the statement may appear, a part of 
its humility. No architecture is so haughty as that which is 
simple: which refuses to address the eye, except in a few 
clear and forceful lines; which implies, in offering so little 
to our regards, that all it has offered is perfect; and disdains, 
either by the complexity or the attractiveness of its features, 
to embarrass our investigation, or betray us into delight. 
That humility, which is the very life of the Gothic school, 
is shown not only in the imperfection, but in the accumula- 
tion, of ornament. The inferior rank of the workman is 
often shown as much in the richness, as the roughness, of his 
work; and if the co-operation of every hand, and the sym- 
pathy of every heart, are to be received, we must be content 
to allow the redundance which disguises the failure of the 
feeble, and wins the regard of the inattentive. There are, 
however, far nobler interests mingling, in the Gothic heart, 
with the rude love of decorative accumulation: a magnifi- 
cent enthusiasm, which feels as if it never could do enough 
to reach the fulness of its ideal; an unselfishness of sacrifice, 
which would rather cast fruitless labour before the altar 
than stand idle in the market; and, finally, a profound sym- 
pathy with the fulness and wealth of the material universe, 
rising out of that Naturalism whose operation we have al- 
ready endeavoured to define. The sculptor who sought for 
his models among the forest leaves, could not but quickly 
and deeply feel that complexity need not involve the loss of 
grace, nor richness that of repose; and every hour which he 
spent in the study of the minute and various work of Na- 
ture, made him feel more forcibly the barrenness of what 



196 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

was best in that of man: nor is it to be wondered at, that, 
seeing her perfect and exquisite creations poured forth in a 
profusion which conception could not grasp nor calculation 
sum, he should think that it ill became him to be niggardly 
of his own rude craftsmanship; and where he saw through- 
out the universe a faultless beauty lavished on measureless 
spaces of broidered field and blooming mountain, to grudge 
his poor and imperfect labour to the few stones that he had 
raised one upon another, for habitation or memorial. The 
years of his life passed away before his task was accom- 
plished; but generation succeeded generation with unwea- 
ried enthusiasm, and the cathedral front was at last lost in 
the tapestry of its traceries, like a rock among the thickets 
and herbage of spring. 

We have now, I believe, obtained a view approaching to 
completeness of the various moral or imaginative elements 
which composed the inner spirit of Gothic architecture. 

[Vol. II, Chap. 6] 

Roman Renaissance 

Unhappy and childish pride in knowledge . . . was the first 
constituent element of the Renaissance mind, and it was 
enough, of itself, to have cast it into swift decline: but it 
was aided by another form of pride, which was above called 
the Pride of State; and which we have next to examine. 

It was noticed, in the second volume of Modern Painters, 
that the principle which had most power in retarding the 
modern school of portraiture was its constant expression of 
individual vanity and pride. And the reader cannot fail to 
have observed that one of the readiest and commonest ways 
in which the painter ministers to this vanity is by introduc- 
ing the pedestal or shaft of a column, or some fragment, 
however simple, of Renaissance architecture, in the back- 
ground of the portrait. And this is not merely because such 
architecture is bolder or grander than, in general, that of 
the apartments of a private house. No other architecture 
would produce the same effect in the same degree. The 



ROMAN RENAISSANCE 197 

richest Gothic, the most massive Norman, would not pro- 
duce the same sense of exaltation as the simple and meagre 
lines of the Renaissance. 

And if we think over this matter a little, we shall soon 
feel that in those meagre lines there is indeed an expression 
of aristocracy in its worst characters; coldness, perfectness of 
training, incapability of emotion, want of sympathy with 
the weakness of lower men, blank, hopeless, haughty self- 
sufficiency. All these characters are written in the Renais- 
sance architecture as plainly as if they were graven on it in 
words. For, observe, all other architectures have something 
in them that common men can enjoy; some concession to the 
simplicities of humanity, some daily bread for the hunger 
of the multitude. Quaint fancy, rich ornament, bright 
colour, something that shows a sympathy with men of 
ordinary minds and hearts; and this wrought out, at least 
in the Gothic, with a rudeness showing that the workman 
did not mind exposing his own ignorance if he could please 
others. But the Renaissance is exactly the contrary of all 
this. It is rigid, cold, inhuman; incapable of glowing, of 
stooping, of conceding for an instant. Whatever excellence 
it has is refined, high-trained, and deeply erudite; a kind 
which the architect well knows no common mind can taste. 
He proclaims it to us aloud. "You cannot feel my work 
unless you study Vitruvius. I will give you no gay colour, no 
pleasant sculpture, nothing to make you happy; for I am a 
learned man. All the pleasure you can have in anything I 
do is in its proud breeding, its rigid formalism, its perfect 
finish, its cold tranquility. I do not work for the vulgar, only 
for the men of the academy and the court." . . . 

While the older workman lavished his labour on the 
minute niche and narrow casement, on the doorways no 
higher than the head, and the contracted angles of the tur- 
reted chamber, the Renaissance builder spared such cost and 
toil in his detail, that he might spend it in bringing larger 
stones from a distance; and restricted himself to rustication 
and five orders, that he might load the ground with colossal 
piers, and raise an ambitious barrenness of architecture, as 



198 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

inanimate as it was gigantic, above the feasts and follies of 
the powerful or the rich. The Titanic insanity extended 
itself also into ecclesiastical design: the principal church in 
Italy was built with little idea of any other admirableness 
than that which was to result from its being huge; and the 
religious impressions of those who enter it are to this day 
supposed to be dependent, in a great degree, on their dis- 
covering that they cannot span the thumbs of the statues 
which sustain the vessels for holy water. . . . 

But of all the evidence bearing upon this subject pre- 
sented by the various art of the fifteenth century, none is 
so interesting or so conclusive as that deduced from its 
tombs. For, exactly in proportion as the pride of life became 
more insolent, the fear of death became more servile; and 
the difference in the manner in which the men of early and 
later days adorned the sepulchre, confesses a still greater 
difference in their manner of regarding death. To those he 
came as the comforter and the friend, rest in his right hand, 
hope in his left; to these as the humiliator, the spoiler, and 
the avenger. And, therefore, we find the early tombs at once 
simple and lovely in adornment, severe and solemn in their 
expression; confessing the power, and accepting the peace, of 
death, openly and joyfully; and in all their symbols marking 
that the hope of resurrection lay only in Christ's righteous- 
ness; signed always with this simple utterance of the dead, 
"I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest; for it is 
thou, Lord, only that makest me dwell in safety." But the 
tombs of the later ages are a ghastly struggle of mean pride 
and miserable terror: the one mustering the statues of the 
Virtues about the tomb, disguising the sarcophagus with 
delicate sculpture, polishing the false periods of the elabo- 
rate epitaph, and filling with strained animation the fea- 
tures of the portrait statue; and the other summoning 
underneath, out of the niche or from behind the curtain, 
the frowning skull, or scythed skeleton, or some other more 
terrible image of the enemy in whose defiance the whiteness 
of the sepulchre had been set to shine above the whiteness 
of the ashes. . . . 



ROMAN RENAISSANCE 199 

Tomaso Mocenigo was succeeded by the renowned Doge, 
Francesco Foscari, under whom, it will be remembered, the 
last additions were made to the Gothic Ducal Palace; addi- 
tions which in form only, not in spirit, correspond to the 
older portions; since, during his reign, the transition took 
place which permits us no longer to consider the Venetian 
architecture as Gothic at all. He died in 1457, and his tomb 
is the first important example of Renaissance art. 

Not, however, a good characteristic example. It is re- 
markable chiefly as introducing all the faults of the Renais- 
sance at an early period, when its merits, such as they were, 
were yet undeveloped. Its claim to be rated as a classical 
composition is altogether destroyed by the remnants of 
Gothic feeling which cling to it here and there in their last 
forms of degradation; and of which, now that we find them 
thus corrupted, the sooner we are rid the better. Thus the 
sarcophagus is supported by a species of tref oiled arches; 
the bases of the shafts have still their spurs; and the whole 
tomb is covered by a pediment, with crockets and a pin- 
nacle. We shall find that the perfect Renaissance is at least 
pure in its insipidity, and subtile in its vice; but this monu- 
ment is remarkable as showing the refuse of one style en- 
cumbering the embryo of another, and all principles of life 
entangled either in the swaddling clothes or the shroud. 

With respect to our present purpose, however, it is a 
monument of enormous importance. We have to trace, be it 
remembered, the pride of state in its gradual intrusion upon 
the sepulchre; and the consequent and correlative vanishing 
of the expressions of religious feeling and heavenly hope, to- 
gether with the more and more arrogant setting forth of the 
virtues of the dead. Now this tomb is the largest and most 
costly we have yet seen; but its means of religious expression 
are limited to a single statue of Christ, small, and used 
merely as a pinnacle at the top. The rest of the composition 
is as curious as it is vulgar. The conceit, so often noticed 
as having been borrowed from the Pisan school, of angels 
withdrawing the curtains of the couch to look down upon 
the dead, was brought forward with increasing prominence 



200 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

by every succeeding sculptor; but, as we draw nearer to the 
Renaissance period, we find that the angels become of less 
importance, and the curtains of more. With the Pisans, the 
curtains are introduced as a motive for the angels; with the 
Renaissance sculptors, the angels are introduced merely as a 
motive for the curtains, which become every day more huge 
and elaborate. In the monument of Mocenigo, they have 
already expanded into a tent, with a pole in the centre of it; 
and in that of Foscari, for the first time, the angels are ab- 
sent altogether; while the curtains are arranged in the form 
of an enormous French tent-bed, and are sustained at the 
flanks by two diminutive figures in Roman armour; substi- 
tuted for the angels, merely that the sculptor might show 
his knowledge of classical costume. And now observe how 
often a fault in feeling induces also a fault in style. In the 
old tombs, the angels used to stand on or by the side of the 
sarcophagus; but their places are here to be occupied by 
the Virtues; and therefore, to sustain the diminutive Roman 
figures at the necessary height, each has a whole Corinthian 
pillar to himself, a pillar whose shaft is eleven feet high, and 
some three or four feet round: and because this was not 
high enough, it is put on a pedestal four feet and a half 
high; and has a spurred base besides of its own, a tall capi- 
tal, then a huge bracket above the capital, and then another 
pedestal above the bracket, and on the top of all the diminu- 
tive figure who has charge of the curtains. 

Under the canopy, thus arranged, is placed the sarcopha- 
gus with its recumbent figure. The statues of the Virgin and 
the saints have disappeared from it. In their stead, its panels 
are filled with half length figures of Faith, Hope, and 
Charity; while Temperance and Fortitude are at the Doge's 
feet. Justice and Prudence at his head, figures now the size 
of life, yet nevertheless recognizable only by their attributes; 
for, except that Hope raises her eyes, there is no difference 
in the character or expression of any of their faces, — they 
are nothing more than handsome Venetian women, in 
rather full and courtly dresses, and tolerably well thrown 



ROMAN RENAISSANCE 201 

into postures for effect from below. Fortitude could not of 
course be placed in a graceful one without some sacrifice of 
her character, but that was of no consequence in the eyes 
of the sculptors of this period, so she leans back languidly, 
and nearly overthrows her own column; while Temperance, 
and Justice opposite to her, as neither the left hand of the 
one nor the right hand of the other could be seen from be- 
low, have been left with one hand each. . . . 

But the most significant change in the treatment of these 
tombs, with respect to our immediate object, is in the form 
of the sarcophagus. It was above noted that, exactly in pro- 
portion to the degree of the pride of life expressed in any 
monument, would be also the fear of death; and therefore, 
as these tombs increase in splendour, in size, and beauty of 
workmanship, we perceive a gradual desire to take away 
from the definite character of the sarcophagus. In the ear- 
liest times, as we have seen, it was a gloomy mass of stone; 
gradually it became charged with religious sculpture; but 
never with the slightest desire to disguise its form, until 
towards the middle of the fifteenth century. It then becomes 
enriched with flower-work and hidden by the Virtues: and, 
finally, losing its four-square form, it is modelled on grace- 
ful types of ancient vases, made as little like a coffin as pos- 
sible, and refined away in various elegances, till it becomes, 
at last, a mere pedestal or stage for the portrait statue. This 
statue, in the meantime, has been gradually coming back to 
life, through a curious series of transitions. The Vendramin 
monument* is one of the last which shows, or pretends to 
show, the recumbent figure laid in death. A few years later, 
this idea became disagreeable to polite minds; and, lo! the 
figures, which before had been laid at rest upon the tomb 
pillow, raised themselves on their elbows, and began to look 
round them. The soul of the sixteenth century dared not 
contemplate its body in death. . . . 

* The Doge Andrea Vendramin died in 1478 and, after a brief, dis- 
astrous reign, was interred in an elaborate monument in the Church of 
SS. Giovanni e Paolo. 



202 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

As of the intermediate monumental type, so also of this, 
the last and most gross, there are unfortunately many ex- 
amples in our own country; but the most wonderful, by far, 
are still at Venice. I shall, however, particularise only two; 
the first, that of the Doge John Pesaro, in the Frari. It is to 
be observed that we have passed over a considerable interval 
of time; we are now in the latter half of the seventeenth 
century; the progress of corruption has in the meantime 
been incessant, and sculpture has here lost its taste and 
learning as well as its feeling. The monument is a huge ac- 
cumulation of theatrical scenery in marble: four colossal 
negro caryatides, grinning and horrible, with faces of black 
marble and white eyes, sustain the first story of it; above 
this, two monsters, long-necked, half dog and half dragon, 
sustain an ornamental sarcophagus, on the top of which the 
full length statue of the Doge in robes of state stands for- 
ward with its arms expanded, like an actor courting ap- 
plause, under a huge canopy of metal, like the roof of a bed, 
painted crimson and gold; on each side of him are sitting 
figures of genii, and unintelligible personifications gesticu- 
lating in Roman armour; below, between the negro carya- 
tides, are two ghastly figures in bronze, half corpse, half 
skeleton, carrying tablets on which is written the eulogium: 
but in large letters, graven in gold, the following words are 
the first and last that strike the eye; the first two phrases, 
one on each side, on tablets in the lower story, the last under 
the portrait statue above: 

Vixit annos LXX. Devixit anno MDCLIX. 

"HlC REVIXIT ANNO MDCLXIX." 

We have here, at last, the horrible images of death in violent 
contrast with the defiant monument, which pretends to 
bring the resurrection down to earth, "Hie revixit;" and it 
seems impossible for false taste and base feeling to sink 
lower. Yet even this monument is surpassed by one in 
St. John and Paul. . . . 

There, towering from the pavement to the vaulting of 



ROMAN RENAISSANCE 203 

the church, behold a mass of marble, sixty or seventy feet in 
height, of mingled yellow and white, the yellow carved into 
the form of an enormous curtain, with ropes, fringes, and 
tassels, sustained by cherubs; in front of which, in the now 
usual stage attitudes, advance the statues of the Doge Bertuc- 
cio Valier, his son the Doge Silvester Valier, and his son's 
wife, Elisabeth. The statues of the Doges, though mean and 
Polonius-like, are partly redeemed by the Ducal robes; but 
that of the Dogaressa is a consummation of grossness, vanity, 
and ugliness, — the figure of a large and wrinkled woman, 
with elaborate curls in stiff projection round her face, cov- 
ered from her shoulders to her feet with ruffs, furs, lace, 
jewels, and embroidery. Beneath and around are scattered 
Virtues, Victories, Fames, genii, — the entire company of the 
monumental stage assembled, as before a drop scene, exe- 
cuted by various sculptors, and deserving attentive study as 
exhibiting every condition of false taste and feeble concep- 
tion. The Victory in the centre is peculiarly interesting; the 
lion by which she is accompanied, springing on a dragon, 
has been intended to look terrible, but the incapable sculp- 
tor could not conceive any form of dreadfulness, could not 
even make the lion look angry. It looks only lachrymose; 
and its lifted forepaws, there being no spring nor motion in 
its body, give it the appearance of a dog begging. The in- 
scriptions under the two principal statues are as follows: 

"Bertucius Valier, Duke, 

Great in wisdom and eloquence, 

Greater in his Hellespontic victory, 

Greatest in the Prince his son, 

Died in the year 1658." 

"Elisabeth Quirina, 

The wife of Silvester, 

Distinguished by Roman virtue, 

By Venetian piety, 

And by the Ducal crown, 

Died 1708." 



204 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

The writers of this age were generally anxious to make 
the world aware that they understood the degrees of com- 
parison, and a large number of epitaphs are principally con- 
structed with this object . . . but the latter of these epitaphs 
is also interesting, from its mention, in an age now alto- 
gether given up to the pursuit of worldly honour, of that 
"Venetian piety" which once truly distinguished the city 
from all others; and of which some form and shadow, re- 
maining still, served to point an epitaph, and to feed more 
cunningly and speciously the pride which could not be 
satiated with the sumptuousness of the sepulchre. 

[Vol. Ill, Chap. 2] 

Grotesque Renaissance 

In the close of the last chapter it was noted that the phases 
of transition in the moral temper of the falling Venetians, 
during their fall, were from pride to infidelity, and from 
infidelity to the unscrupulous pursuit of pleasure. During 
the last years of the existence of the state, the minds both of 
the nobility and the people seem to have been set simply 
upon the attainment of the means of self-indulgence. There 
was not strength enough in them to be proud, nor fore- 
thought enough to be ambitious. One by one the possessions 
of the state were abandoned to its enemies; one by one the 
channels of its trade were forsaken by its own languor, or 
occupied and closed against it by its more energetic rivals; 
and the time, the resources, and the thoughts of the nation 
were exclusively occupied in the invention of such fantastic 
and costly pleasures as might best amuse their apathy, lull 
their remorse, or disguise their ruin. 

The architecture raised at Venice during this period is 
among the worst and basest ever built by the hands of men, 
being especially distinguished by a spirit of brutal mockery 
and insolent jest, which, exhausting itself in deformed and 
monstrous sculpture, can sometimes be hardly otherwise de- 



GROTESQUE RENAISSANCE 205 

fined than as the perpetuation in stone of the ribaldries of 
drunkenness. On such a period, and on such work, it is pain- 
ful to dwell, and I had not originally intended to do so; 
but I found that the entire spirit of the Renaissance could 
not be comprehended unless it was followed to its consum- 
mation; and that there were many most interesting ques- 
tions arising out of the study of this particular spirit of 
jesting, with reference to which I have called it the Gro- 
tesque Renaissance. For it is not this period alone which is 
distinguished by such a spirit. There is jest — perpetual, care- 
less, and not unfrequently obscene — in the most noble work 
of the Gothic periods; and it becomes, therefore, of the 
greatest possible importance to examine into the nature and 
essence of the Grotesque itself, and to ascertain in what 
respect it is that the jesting of art in its highest flight differs 
from its jesting in its utmost degradation. 

The place where we may best commence our inquiry is 
one renowned in the history of Venice, the space of ground 
before the Church of Santa Maria Formosa; a spot which, 
after the Rialto and St. Mark's Place, ought to possess a 
peculiar interest in the mind of the traveller, in consequence 
of its connexion with the most touching and true legend of 
the Brides of Venice. That legend is related at length in 
every Venetian history, and, finally, has been told by the 
poet Rogers, in a way which renders it impossible for any 
one to tell it after him. I have only, therefore, to remind the 
reader that the capture of the brides took place in the 
cathedral church, St. Pietro di Castello; and that this of 
Santa Maria Formosa is connected with the tale, only be- 
cause it was yearly visited with prayers by the Venetian 
maidens, on the anniversary of their ancestors' deliverance. 
For that deliverance, their thanks were to be rendered to 
the Virgin; and there was no church then dedicated to the 
Virgin in Venice except this. 

Neither of the cathedral church, nor of this dedicated to 
St. Mary the Beautiful, is one stone left upon another. But 
from that which has been raised on the site of the latter, 



206 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

we may receive a most important lesson, introductory to 
our immediate subject, if first we glance back to the tradi- 
tional history of the church which has been destroyed. 

No more honourable epithet than "traditional" can be 
attached to what is recorded concerning it, yet I should 
grieve to lose the legend of its first erection. The Bishop of 
Uderzo, driven by the Lombards from his bishopric, as he 
was praying beheld in a vision the Virgin Mother, who or- 
dered him to found a church in her honour, in the place 
where he should see a white cloud rest. And when he went 
out, the white cloud went before him; and on the place 
where it rested he built a church, and it was called the 
Church of St. Mary the Beautiful, from the loveliness of the 
form in which she appeared in the vision. . . . 

There is now but one landmark to guide the steps of the 
traveller to the place where the white cloud rested, and the 
shrine was built to St. Mary the Beautiful. Yet the spot is 
still worth his pilgrimage, for he may receive a lesson upon 
it, though a painful one. Let him first fill his mind with the 
fair images of the ancient festival, and then seek that land- 
mark, the tower of the modern church, built upon the place 
where the daughters of Venice knelt yearly with her noblest 
lords; and let him look at the head that is carved on the 
base of the tower, still dedicated to St. Mary the Beautiful. 

A head, — huge, inhuman, and monstrous, — leering in 
bestial degradation, too foul to be either pictured or de- 
scribed, or to be beheld for more than an instant: yet let 
it be endured for that instant; for in that head is embodied 
the type of the evil spirit to which Venice was abandoned 
in the fourth period of her decline; and it is well that we 
should see and feel the full horror of it on this spot, and 
know what pestilence it was that came and breathed upon 
her beauty, until it melted away like the white cloud from 
the ancient field of Santa Maria Formosa. 

This head is one of many hundreds which disgrace the 
latest buildings of the city, all more or less agreeing in their 



GROTESQUE RENAISSANCE 207 

expression of sneering mockery, in most cases enhanced by 
thrusting out the tongue. Most of them occur upon the 
bridges, which were among the very last works undertaken 
by the republic, several, for instance, upon the Bridge of 
Sighs; and they are evidences of a delight in the contempla- 
tion of bestial vice, and the expression of low sarcasm, 
which is, I believe, the most hopeless state into which the 
human mind can fall. This spirit of idiotic mockery is, as I 
have said, the most striking characteristic of the last period 
of the Renaissance, which, in consequence of the character 
thus imparted to its sculpture, I have called grotesque; but 
it must be our immediate task, and it will be a most interest- 
ing one, to distinguish between this base grotesqueness, and 
that magnificent condition of fantastic imagination, which 
was above noticed as one of the chief elements of the North- 
ern Gothic mind. . . . 

First, then, it seems to me that the grotesque is, in almost 
all cases, composed of two elements, one ludicrous, the other 
fearful; that, as one or the other of these elements prevails, 
the grotesque falls into two branches, sportive grotesque 
and terrible grotesque; but that we cannot legitimately 
consider it under these two aspects, because there are hardly 
any examples which do not in some degree combine both 
elements: there are few grotesques so utterly playful as to 
be overcast with no shade of fearfulness, and few so fearful 
as absolutely to exclude all ideas of jest. But although we 
cannot separate the grotesque itself into two branches, we 
may easily examine separately the two conditions of mind 
which it seems to combine; and consider successively what 
are the kinds of jest, and what the kinds of fearfulness, 
which may be legitimately expressed in the various walks of 
art, and how their expressions actually occur in the Gothic 
and Renaissance schools. 

Now all the forms of art which result from the compara- 
tively recreative exertion of minds more or less blunted or 
encumbered by other cares and toils, the art which we may 



208 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

call generally art of the wayside, as opposed to that which is 
the business of men's lives, is, in the best sense of the word, 
Grotesque. And it is noble or inferior, first according to the 
tone of the minds which have produced it, and in propor- 
tion to their knowledge, wit, love of truth, and kindness; 
secondly, according to the degree of strength they have been 
able to give forth; but yet, however much we may find in it 
needing to be forgiven, always delightful so long as it is the 
work of good and ordinarily intelligent men. And its de- 
lightfulness ought mainly to consist in those very imperfec- 
tions which mark it for work done in times of rest. It is not 
its own merit so much as the enjoyment of him who pro- 
duced it, which is to be the source of the spectator's pleas- 
ure; it is to the strength of his sympathy, not to the accuracy 
of his criticism, that it makes appeal; and no man can in- 
deed be a lover of what is best in the higher walks of art 
who has not feeling and charity enough to join in the rude 
sportiveness of hearts that have escaped out of prison, and 
to be thankful for the flowers which men have laid their 
burdens down to sow by the wayside. . . . 

We have next to consider the expression throughout of 
the minds of men who indulge themselves in unnecessary 
play. It is evident that a large number of these men will be 
more refined and more highly educated than those who only 
play necessarily; their power of pleasure-seeking implies, in 
general, fortunate circumstances of life. It is evident also 
that their play will not be so hearty, so simple, or so joyful; 
and this deficiency of brightness will affect it in proportion 
to its unnecessary and unlawful continuance, until at last it 
becomes a restless and dissatisfied indulgence in excitement, 
or a painful delving after exhausted springs of pleasure. 

The art through which this temper is expressed will, in 
all probability, be refined and sensual, — therefore, also as- 
suredly feeble; and because, in the failure of the joyful 
energy of the mind, there will fail, also, its perceptions and 
its sympathies, it will be entirely deficient in expression of 
character and acuteness of thought, but will be peculiarly 



GROTESQUE RENAISSANCE 209 

restless, manifesting its desire for excitement in idle changes 
of subject and purpose. Incapable of true imagination, it 
will seek to supply its place by exaggerations, incoherences, 
and monstrosities; and the form of the grotesque to which 
it gives rise will be an incongruous chain of hackneyed 
graces, idly thrown together, — prettinesses or sublimities, 
not of its own invention, associated in forms which will be 
absurd without being fantastic, and monstrous without be- 
ing terrible. And because, in the continual pursuit of pleas- 
ure, men lose both cheerfulness and charity, there will be 
small hilarity, but much malice, in this grotesque; yet a 
weak malice, incapable of expressing its own bitterness, not 
having grasp enough of truth to become forcible, and ex- 
hausting itself in impotent or disgusting caricature. 

Of course, there are infinite ranks and kinds of this gro- 
tesque, according to the natural power of the minds which 
originate it, and to the degree in which they have lost them- 
selves. Its highest condition is that which first developed 
itself among the enervated Romans, and which was brought 
to the highest perfection of which it was capable by Raphael 
in the arabesques of the Vatican. It may be generally de- 
scribed as an elaborate and luscious form of nonsense. Its 
lower conditions are found in the common upholstery and 
decorations which, over the whole of civilised Europe, have 
sprung from this poisonous root; an artistical pottage, com- 
posed of nymphs, cupids, and satyrs, with shreddings of 
heads and paws of meek wild beasts, and nondescript vege- 
tables. And the lowest of all are those which have not even 
graceful models to recommend them, but arise out of the 
corruption of the higher schools, mingled with clownish or 
bestial satire, as is the case in the later Renaissance of 
Venice, which we were above examining. It is almost im- 
possible to believe the depth to which the human mind can 
be debased in following this species of grotesque. In a recent 
Italian garden, the favourite ornaments frequently consist 
of stucco images, representing, in dwarfish caricature, the 
most disgusting types of manhood and womanhood which 



210 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

can be found amidst the dissipation of the modern drawing- 
room; yet without either veracity or humour, and dependent, 
for whatever interest they possess, upon simple grossness 
of expression and absurdity of costume. Grossness, of one 
kind or another, is, indeed, an unfailing characteristic of 
the style; either latent, as in the refined sensuality of the 
more graceful arabesques, or, in the worst examples, mani- 
fested in every species of obscene conception and abomin- 
able detail. In the head, described in the opening of this 
chapter, at Santa Maria Formosa, the teeth are represented 
as decayed. . . . 

The difficulty which, as I above stated, exists in distin- 
guishing the playful from the terrible grotesque arises out 
of this cause: that the mind, under certain phases of excite- 
ment, plays with terror, and summons images which, if it 
were in another temper, would be awful, but of which, 
either in weariness or in irony, it refrains for the time to 
acknowledge the true terribleness. And the mode in which 
this refusal takes place distinguishes the noble from the 
ignoble grotesque. For the master of the noble grotesque 
knows the depth of all at which he seems to mock, and 
would feel it at another time, or feels it in a certain under- 
current of thought even while he jests with it; but the work- 
man of the ignoble grotesque can feel and understand noth- 
ing, and mocks at all things with the laughter of the idiot 
and the cretin. . . . 

In the true grotesque, a man of naturally strong feeling is 
accidentally or resolutely apathetic; in the false grotesque, 
a man naturally apathetic is forcing himself into temporary 
excitement. The horror which is expressed by the one comes 
upon him whether he will or not; that which is expressed 
by the other is sought out by him, and elaborated by his art. 
And therefore, also, because the fear of the one is true, and 
of true things, however fantastic its expression may be, there 
will be reality in it, and force. It is not a manufactured ter- 
ribleness, whose author, when he had finished it, knew not 
if it would terrify any one else or not: but it is a terribleness 



GROTESQUE RENAISSANCE 211 

taken from the life; a spectre which the workman indeed 
saw, and which, as it appalled him, will appal us also. But 
the other workman never felt any Divine fear; he never 
shuddered when he heard the cry from the burning towers 
of the earth, 

"Venga Medusa; si lo farem di smalto." 

He is stone already, and needs no gentle hand laid upon his 
eyes to save him.* . . . 

There is, however, often another cause of difference than 
this. The true grotesque being the expression of the repose 
or play of a serious mind, there is a false grotesque opposed 
to it, which is the result of the full exertion of a frivolous 
one. . . . And herein lies the real distinction between the 
base grotesque of Raphael and the Renaissance, above al- 
luded to, and the true Gothic grotesque. Those grotesques 
or arabesques of the Vatican, and other such work, which 
have become the patterns of ornamentation in modern 
times, are the fruit of great minds degraded to base objects. 
The care, skill, and science, applied to the distribution of 
the leaves, and the drawing of the figures, are intense, ad- 
mirable, and accurate; therefore, they ought to have pro- 
duced a grand and serious work, not a tissue of nonsense. 
If we can draw the human head perfectly, and are masters 
of its expression and its beauty, we have no business to cut 
it off, and hang it up by the hair at the end of a garland. If 
we can draw the human body in the perfection of its grace 
and movement, we have no business to take away its limbs, 
and terminate it with a bunch of leaves. Or rather, our do- 
ing so will imply that there is something wrong with us; 
that, if we can consent to use our best powers for such base 
and vain trifling, there must be something wanting in the 
powers themselves; and that, however skilful we may be, or 
however learned, we are wanting both in the earnestness 

* Inferno, IX, 53. "Let Medusa come, so that we may change him into 
stone": thus the Furies threaten Dante, whose eyes Virgil shields from 
the mortal sight of Medusa. 



212 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

which can apprehend a noble truth, and in the thoughtf ill- 
ness which can feel a noble fear. No Divine terror will ever 
be found in the work of the man who wastes a colossal 
strength in elaborating toys; for the first lesson which that 
terror is sent to teach us is the value of the human soul, and 
the shortness of mortal time. . . . 

It seems probable that nothing is so refreshing to the 
vulgar mind as some exercise of this [satiric] faculty, more 
especially on the failings of their superiors; and that, wher- 
ever the lower orders are allowed to express themselves 
freely, we shall find humour, more or less caustic, becoming 
a principal feature in their work. The classical and Renais- 
sance manufactures of modern times having silenced the 
independent language of the operative, his humour and 
satire pass away in the word-wit which has of late become 
the especial study of the group of authors headed by Charles 
Dickens; all this power was formerly thrown into noble art, 
and became permanently expressed in the sculptures of the 
cathedral. It was never thought that there was anything dis- 
cordant or improper in such a position: for the builders 
evidently felt very deeply a truth of which, in modern times, 
we are less cognizant: that folly and sin are, to a certain 
extent, synonymous, and that it would be well for mankind 
in general if all could be made to feel that wickedness is as 
contemptible as it is hateful. So that the vices were permit- 
ted to be represented under the most ridiculous forms, and 
the coarsest wit of the workman to be exhausted in con- 
pleting the degradation of the creatures supposed to be 
subjected to them. . . . 

Nor, indeed, is this altogether avoidable, for it is not 
possible to express intense wickedness without some condi- 
tion of degradation. Malice, subtlety, and pride, in their 
extreme, cannot be written upon noble forms; and I am 
aware of no effort to represent the Satanic mind in the 
angelic form which has succeeded in painting. Milton suc- 
ceeds only because he separately describes the movements of 



GROTESQUE RENAISSANCE 213 

the mind, and therefore leaves himself at liberty to make 
the form heroic; but that form is never distinct enough to 
be painted. Dante, who will not leave even external forms 
obscure, degrades them before he can feel them to be 
demoniacal; so also John Bunyan: both of them, I think, 
having firmer faith than Milton's in their own creations, and 
deeper insight into the nature of sin. Milton makes his fiends 
too noble, and misses the foulness, inconstancy, and fury of 
wickedness. His Satan possesses some virtues, not the less 
virtues for being applied to evil purpose. Courage, resolu- 
tion, patience, deliberation in counsel, this latter being 
eminently a wise and holy character, as opposed to the "In- 
sania" of excessive sin: and all this, if not a shallow and 
false, is a smoothed and artistical, conception. On the other 
hand, I have always felt that there was a peculiar grandeur 
in the indescribable ungovernable fury of Dante's fiends, 
ever shortening its own powers, and disappointing its own 
purposes; the deaf, blind, speechless, unspeakable rage, 
fierce as the lightning, but erring from its mark or turning 
senselessly against itself, and still further debased by foul- 
ness of form and action. Something is indeed to be allowed 
for the rude feelings of the time, but I believe all such men 
as Dante are sent into the world at the time when they can 
do their work best; and that, it being appointed for him to 
give to mankind the most vigorous realisation possible both 
of Hell and Heaven, he was born both in the country and 
at the time which furnished the most stern opposition of 
Horror and Beauty, and permitted it to be written in the 
clearest terms. And, therefore, though there are passages in 
the Inferno which it would be impossible for any poet now 
to write, I look upon it as all the more perfect for them. 
For there can be no question but that one characteristic of 
excessive vice is indecency, a general baseness in its thoughts 
and acts concerning the body,* and that the full portraiture 
of it cannot be given without marking, and that in the 

* Let the reader examine, with especial reference to this subject, the 
general character of the language of Iago. [Ruskin's note.] 



214 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

strongest lines, this tendency to corporeal degradation; 
which, in the time of Dante, could be done frankly, but 
cannot now. And, therefore, I think the twenty-first and 
twenty-second books of the Inferno the most perfect por- 
traitures of fiendish nature which we possess; and, at the 
same time, in their mingling of the extreme of horror (for 
it seems to me that the silent swiftness of the first demon, 
"con F ali aperte e sovra i pie leggiero," cannot be surpassed 
in dreadfumess*) with ludicrous actions and images, they 
present the most perfect instances with which I am ac- 
quainted of the terrible grotesque. But the whole of the 
Inferno is full of this grotesque, as well as the Faerie Queen; 
and these two poems, together with the works of Albert 
Diirer, will enable the reader to study it in its noblest forms, 
without reference to Gothic cathedrals. . . . 

From what we have seen to be its nature, we must, I think, 
be led to one most important conclusion: that wherever the 
human mind is healthy and vigorous in all its proportions, 
great in imagination and emotion no less than in intellect, 
and not overborne by an undue or hardened pre-eminence 
of the mere reasoning faculties, there the grotesque will exist 
in full energy. And, accordingly, I believe that there is no 
test of greatness in periods, nations, or men, more sure than 
the development, among them or in them, or a noble gro- 
tesque; and no test of comparative smallness or limitation, 
of one kind or another, more sure than the absence of gro- 
tesque invention, or incapability of understanding it. I 
think that the central man of all the world, as representing 
in perfect balance the imaginative, moral, and intellectual 
faculties, all at their highest, is Dante; and in him the gro- 
tesque reaches at once the most distinct and the most noble 
development to which it was ever brought in the human 
mind. The two other greatest men whom Italy has produced, 
Michael Angelo and Tintoret, show the same element in no 
less original strength, but oppressed in the one by his sci- 
ence, and in both by the spirit of the age in which they lived; 
* xxi, 33: "With wings outspread, and feet of nimblest tread." 



GROTESQUE RENAISSANCE 215 

never, however, absent even in Michael Angelo, but stealing 
forth continually in a strange and spectral way, lurking in 
folds of raiment and knots of wild hair, and mountainous 
confusions of crabby limb and cloudy drapery; and in 
Tintoret, ruling the entire conceptions of his greatest works 
to such a degree that they are an enigma or an offence, even 
to this day, to all the petty disciples of a formal criticism. 
Of the grotesque in our own Shakespeare I need hardly 
speak, nor of its intolerableness to his French critics; nor 
of that of iEschylus and Homer, as opposed to the lower 
Greek writers; and so I believe it will be found, at all pe- 
riods, in all minds of the first order. . . . 

The development of [the grotesque in late Renaissance 
Venice] took place under different laws from those which 
regulate it in any other European city. For, great as we have 
seen the Byzantine mind show itself to be in other direc- 
tions, it was marked as that of a declining nation by the 
absence of the grotesque element, and, owing to its influ- 
ence, the early Venetian Gothic remained inferior to all 
other schools in this particular character. Nothing can well 
be more wonderful than its instant failure in any attempt 
at the representation of ludicrous or fearful images, more 
especially when it is compared with the magnificent gro- 
tesque of the neighbouring city of Verona, in which the 
Lombard influence had full sway. Nor was it until the last 
links of connexion with Constantinople had been dissolved, 
that the strength of the Venetian mind could manifest itself 
in this direction. But it had then a new enemy to encounter. 
The Renaissance laws altogether checked its imagination in 
architecture; and it could only obtain permission to express 
itself by starting forth in the work of the Venetian painters, 
filling them with monkeys and dwarfs, even amidst the most 
serious subjects, and leading Veronese and Tintoret to the 
most unexpected and wild fantasies of form and colour. 

We may be deeply thankful for this peculiar reserve of 
the Gothic grotesque character to the last days of Venice. 



216 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

All over the rest of Europe it had been strongest in the days 
of imperfect art; magnificently powerful throughout the 
whole of the thirteenth century, tamed gradually in the 
fourteenth and fifteenth, and expiring in the sixteenth 
amidst anatomy and laws of art. But at Venice, it had not 
been received when it was elsewhere in triumph, and it fled 
to the lagoons for shelter when elsewhere it was oppressed. 
And it was arrayed by the Venetian painters in robes of 
state, and advanced by them to such honour as it had never 
received in its days of widest dominion; while, in return, it 
bestowed upon their pictures that fulness, piquancy, deci- 
sion of parts, and mosaic-like intermingling of fancies, alter- 
nately brilliant and sublime, which were exactly what was 
most needed for the development of their unapproachable 
colour-power. . . . 

Such, then, were the general tone and progress of the 
Venetian mind, up to the close of the seventeenth century. 
First, serious, religious, and sincere; then, though serious 
still, comparatively deprived of conscientiousness, and apt 
to decline into stern and subtle policy: in the first case, the 
spirit of the noble grotesque not showing itself in art at all, 
but only in speech and action; in the second case, develop- 
ing itself in painting, through accessories and vivacities of 
composition, while perfect dignity was always preserved in 
portraiture. A third phase rapidly developed itself. 

Once more, and for the last time, let me refer the reader 
to the important epoch of the death of the Doge Tomaso 
Mocenigo in 1423, long ago indicated as the commence- 
ment of the decline of the Venetian power. That commence- 
ment is marked not merely by the words of the dying Prince, 
but by a great and clearly legible sign. It is recorded, that 
on the accession of his successor, Foscari, to the throne, 

"SlFESTEGGIO DALLA CITTA UNO ANNO INTEROl" "The city kept 

festival for a whole year." Venice had in her childhood sown, 
in tears, the harvest she was to reap in rejoicing. She now 
sowed in laughter the seeds of death. 

Thenceforward, year after year, the nation drank with 



GROTESQUE RENAISSANCE 217 

deeper thirst from the fountains of forbidden pleasure, and 
dug for springs, hitherto unknown, in the dark places of 
the earth. In the ingenuity of indulgence, in the varieties 
of vanity, Venice surpassed the cities of Christendom, as of 
old she had surpassed them in fortitude and devotion; and 
as once the powers of Europe stood before her judgment- 
seat, to receive the decisions of her justice, so now the youth 
of Europe assembled in the halls of her luxury, to learn 
from her the arts of delight. 

It is as needless as it is painful to trace the steps of her 
final ruin. That ancient curse was upon her, the curse of 
the Cities of the Plain, "Pride, fulness of bread, and abun- 
dance of idleness." By the inner burning of her own pas- 
sions, as fatal as the fiery rain of Gomorrah, she was 
consumed from her place among the nations; and her ashes 
are choking the channels of the dead, salt sea. 

[Vol. Ill, Chap. 3] 



Society 



It is tempting to take 1860 — the year Modern Painters was 
completed and the precise mid-point of Ruskin's life — as 
the dividing line on one side of which falls his career as art 
critic and on the other, with the publication of Unto This 
Last also in 1860, his career as a critic of society. But the 
change was one of emphasis, not of direction. During the 
1850s Ruskin had become less concerned with the study of 
art than with the creation of social conditions under which 
the arts might flourish. "Beautiful art," he told his audi- 
ences, "can only be produced by people who have beautiful 
things about them, and leisure to look at them." But Eng- 
land had turned her cities into furnaces and her artisans 
into slaves of the machine. This is the theme of "Modern 
Manufacture and Design," and it runs throughout the lec- 
tures Ruskin gave in the industrial Midlands in the late 
1850s. Published as The Political Economy of Art (1857) 
and The Two Paths (1859), the lectures are an expansion of 
"The Nature of Gothic" and a prelude to Unto This Last. 
Victorian England was so hostile to the message of Unto 
This Last that for more than a decade after its publication 
the book was virtually unread. Ruskin was denounced as a 
monger of heresies who must be crushed, lest his wild words 
open a "moral floodgate . . . and drown us all." If the up- 
roar over Unto This Last now seems excessive, we need 
only recall that Ruskin attacked every principle held sacred 
by the economists and industrialists of the age, and that 



220 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

the book appeared at a time when the life of the industrial 
worker was barely above the level of animal survival. Yet 
the reforms which Ruskin advocated in Unto This Last are 
almost item for item those effected in the past half century, 
and we are slowly realizing the balance of his program. It 
would require a revolution to undo the bloodless revolution 
which his book helped bring about. 

Clement Attlee, who was converted to socialism after 
reading the works of Ruskin and his disciple William 
Morris, dates the birth of the Labour Party in 1906, when 
twenty-nine independent Labourites were returned to the 
House of Commons; according to a questionnaire circulated 
among them, the book which most profoundly influenced 
their thought was Unto This Last. By 1910 one hundred 
thousand copies had been sold and several unauthorized 
editions had been printed in America. Translations ap- 
peared in French, German, and Italian; and a then obscure 
disciple of Ruskin prepared an edition in Gujarati, an Indie 
dialect. 

Gandhi entitled his translation Sarvodaya, or "The Wel- 
fare of All." His phrase renders perfectly the point of the 
book and the parable from which its title derives. Over the 
protests of those who had labored through the heat of the 
day, the master of the vineyard paid all alike the same 
wage, even those who were hired at the eleventh hour: 
"Friend, I do thee no wrong. . . . Take that thine is, and go 
thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee." 
Ruskin's state is a secular image of the Lord's vineyard, in 
which labor is not forced to compete against itself and capi- 
tal provides a living wage for those who work or are forced 
into idleness. 

Gospel parables appear irrelevant to a treatise on eco- 
nomics if one holds that the subject is concerned exclusively 
with marketable commodities, and not at all with the hu- 
man beings who make and consume them. But Ruskin in- 
sisted that the market place cannot be sealed off from the 
rest of life and that economics, when not simply statistics, 



SOCIETY 221 

is indissolubly linked to ethics. He perceived that the po- 
litical economists were as deluded in deriving their princi- 
ples from a hypothetical Economic Man, devoid of all 
motives save acquisitiveness, as were the aestheticians with 
their hypothetical Aesthetic Man, a mere disembodied per- 
ceiver of beauty. Ruskin's contribution to economics rests 
on his humanization of the concept of value. The whole 
argument of Unto This Last culminates in a single sentence: 
"There is no Wealth but Life." 

Unto This Last first appeared serially in the Cornhill 
Magazine, under the editorship of Thackeray. Because of 
the hostility the articles aroused, Thackeray was compelled 
to notify Ruskin that the fourth installment would have to 
be the last. It was a felicitous injunction. In the final essay 
Ruskin said all that was essential, the remainder spilling 
over into a lesser sequel, Munera Pulveris. The result was 
the finest achievement of Ruskin's middle years. 

Throughout the 1860s Ruskin continued to channel his 
energies into social criticism. But he was no longer capable 
of the sustained and disciplined coherence he had achieved 
in The Stones of Venice and Unto This Last. Nor had he 
yet learned to make a virtue of his vagaries, as he did in the 
1870s, when he created in Fors Clavigera a new genre 
uniquely suited to his erratic gifts. The public lecture now 
became his characteristic form. Although Sesame and Lilies 
(1865) and The Crown of Wild Olive (1866) contain some of 
his most memorable writing, they are not properly books 
but collections of miscellaneous addresses on related themes. 

They are above all angry lectures, full of rage at the bar- 
barism of a professedly Christian society. Their energy arises 
from the same burning outrage at injustice and pretended 
piety that had inflamed the Prophets. And Ruskin takes the 
Prophets' bold license of insulting his hearers. The heart of 
his address "Of Kings' Treasuries" is an indictment of the 
illiteracy and cruelty of his seemingly literate, compassion- 
ate audience. Only a nation which despises compassion 
could tolerate the newspaper account he cites of a half-blind 



222 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

cobbler who was found starved to death in his lodgings. 
Ruskin condemns his audience precisely as he condemned 
himself for enjoying luxury in the midst of poverty. "The 
crudest man living," he wrote in Unto This Last, "could 
not sit at his feast, unless he sat blindfold." Ruskin sat with 
eyes opened and, unable to forgive himself, could not for- 
give others. A letter he wrote to Charles Eliot Norton in 
1863 reveals his anxious inner conflict more starkly than 
anything he said in public: "I am . . . tormented between 
the longing for rest . . . and the sense of the terrific call of 
human crime for resistance and of human misery for help — 
though it seems to me as the voice of a river of blood which 
can but sweep me down in the midst of its black clots, help- 
less." 

Ruskin had come to despise the reputation he had won 
in his earlier books as an eloquent adjudicator of taste. 
Something of his contempt for this popular misconception 
finds its way into the savagely satiric passages of his lecture 
on "Traffic." He had been invited to address the citizens of 
Bradford on the proper style for their new stock exchange. 
But the invitation went out ten years too late. Ruskin had 
ceased to care about architectural styles when he saw his 
plea for the spirit of Gothic parodied by dismal churches 
and gingerbread pubs. And so, instead of advising his audi- 
ence on the latest mode in pinnacles, he attacked their cor- 
rupted taste and, through it, the Mammonite values of the 
whole nation. The lecture is a brilliant distillation of all 
that Ruskin had learned in the two decades since he had 
written the opening lines of The Seven Lamps. 

-J. D. R. 



THE TWO PATHS 



Modern Manufacture and Design* 

The changes in the state of this country are now so rapid, 
that it would be wholly absurd to endeavour to lay down 
laws of art education for it under its present aspect and 
circumstances; and therefore I must necessarily ask, how 
much of it do you seriously intend within the next fifty 
years to be coal-pit, brick-field, or quarry? For the sake of 
distinctness of conclusion, I will suppose your success abso- 
lute: that from shore to shore the whole of the island is to be 
set as thick with chimneys as the masts stand in the docks of 
Liverpool: that there shall be no meadows in it; no trees; 
no gardens; only a little corn grown upon the housetops, 
reaped and threshed by steam: that you do not leave even 
room for roads, but travel either over the roofs of your mills, 
on viaducts; or under their floors, in tunnels: that, the 
smoke having rendered the light of the sun unserviceable, 
you work always by the light of your own gas: that no acre 
of English ground shall be without its shaft and its engine; 
and therefore, no spot of English ground left, on which it 
shall be possible to stand, without a definite and calculable 
chance of being blown off it, at any moment, into small 
pieces. 

Under these circumstances, (if this is to be the future of 
England,) no designing or any other development of beauti- 
ful art will be possible. Do not vex your minds, nor waste 
your money with any thought or effort in the matter. Beauti- 
* Delivered at the Mechanics' Institute, Bradford, March 1, 1859. 



224 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

ful art can only be produced by people who have beautiful 
things about them, and leisure to look at them; and unless 
you provide some elements of beauty for your workmen to 
be surrounded by, you will find that no elements of beauty 
can be invented by them. 

I was struck forcibly by the bearing of this great fact upon 
our modern efforts at ornamentation in an afternoon walk, 
last week, in the suburbs of one of our large manufacturing 
towns. I was thinking of the difference in the effect upon the 
designer's mind, between the scene which I then came upon, 
and the scene which would have presented itself to the eyes 
of any designer of the Middle Ages, when he left his work- 
shop. Just outside the town I came upon an old English 
cottage, or mansion, I hardly know which to call it, set close 
under the hill, and beside the river, perhaps built some- 
where in the Charleses' times, with mullioned windows and 
a low arched porch; round which, in the little triangular 
garden, one can imagine the family as they used to sit in old 
summer times, the ripple of the river heard faintly through 
the sweetbriar hedge, and the sheep on the far-off wolds 
shining in the evening sunlight. There, uninhabited for 
many and many a year, it had been left in unregarded havoc 
of ruin; the garden-gate still swung loose to its latch; the 
garden, blighted utterly into a field of ashes, not even a 
weed taking root there; the roof torn into shapeless rents; 
the shutters hanging about the windows in rags of rotten 
wood; before its gate, the stream which had gladdened it 
now soaking slowly by, black as ebony and thick with 
curdling scum; the bank above it trodden into unctuous, 
sooty slime: far in front of it, between it and the old hills, 
the furnaces of the city foaming forth perpetual plague of 
sulphurous darkness; the volumes of their storm clouds 
coiling low over a waste of grassless fields, fenced from each 
other, not by hedges, but by slabs of square stone, like grave- 
stones, riveted together with iron. 

That was your scene for the designer's contemplation in 
his afternoon walk at Rochdale. Now fancy what was the 



MODERN MANUFACTURE AND DESIGN 225 

scene which presented itself, in his afternoon walk, to a de- 
signer of the Gothic school of Pisa — Nino Pisano, or any of 
his men. 

On each side of a bright river he saw rise a line of brighter 
palaces, arched and pillared, and inlaid with deep red 
porphyry, and with serpentine; along the quays before their 
gates were riding troops of knights, noble in face and form, 
dazzling in crest and shield; horse and man one labyrinth of 
quaint colour and gleaming light — the purple, and silver, 
and scarlet fringes flowing over the strong limbs and clashing 
mail, like sea-waves over rocks at sunset. Opening on each 
side from the river were gardens, courts, and cloisters; long 
successions of white pillars among wreaths of vine; leaping 
of fountains through buds of pomegranate and orange: and 
still along the garden paths, and under and through the 
crimson of the pomegranate shadows, moving slowly, groups 
of the fairest women that Italy ever saw — fairest, because 
purest and thoughtfullest; trained in all high knowledge, as 
in all courteous art — in dance, in song, in sweet wit, in lofty 
learning, in loftier courage, in loftiest love — able alike to 
cheer, to enchant, or save, the souls of men. Above all this 
scenery of perfect human life, rose dome and bell-tower, 
burning with white alabaster and gold: beyond dome and 
bell-tower the slopes of mighty hills, hoary with olive; far 
in the north, above a purple sea of peaks of solemn Apen- 
nine, the clear, sharp-cloven Carrara mountains sent up 
their steadfast flames of marble summit into amber sky; the 
great sea itself, scorching with expanse of light, stretching 
from their feet to the Gorgonian isles; and over all these, 
ever present, near or far — seen through the leaves of vine, 
or imaged with all its march of clouds in the Arno's stream, 
or set with its depth of blue close against the golden hair 
and burning cheek of lady and knight, — the untroubled 
and sacred sky, which was to all men, in those days of in- 
nocent faith, indeed the unquestioned abode of spirits, as 
the earth was of men; and which opened straight through 
its gates of cloud and veils of dew into the awfulness of the 



226 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

eternal world; — a heaven in which every cloud that passed 
was literally the chariot of an angel, and every ray of its 
Evening and Morning streamed from the throne of God. 

What think you of that for a school of design? 

I do not bring this contrast before you as a ground of 
hopelessness in our task; neither do I look for any possible 
renovation of the Republic of Pisa, at Bradford, in the nine- 
teenth century; but I put it before you in order that you 
may be aware precisely of the kind of difficulty you have to 
meet, and may then consider with yourselves how far you 
can meet it. To men surrounded by the depressing and 
monotonous circumstances of English manufacturing life, 
depend upon it, design is simply impossible. This is the 
most distinct of all the experiences I have had in dealing 
with the modern workman. He is intelligent and ingenious 
in the highest degree — subtle in touch and keen in sight: 
but he is, generally speaking, wholly destitute of designing 
power. And if you want to give him the power, you must 
give him the materials, and put him in the circumstances 
for it. Design is not the offspring of idle fancy: it is the 
studied result of accumulative observation and delightful 
habit. Without observation and experience, no design — 
without peace and pleasurableness in occupation, no design 
— and all the lecturings, and teachings, and prizes, and 
principles of art, in the world, are of no use, so long as you 
don't surround your men with happy influences and beauti- 
ful things. It is impossible for them to have right ideas 
about colour, unless they see the lovely colours of nature 
unspoiled; impossible for them to supply beautiful incident 
and action in their ornament, unless they see beautiful in- 
cident and action in the world about them. Inform their 
minds, refine their habits, and you form and refine their 
designs; but keep them illiterate, uncomfortable, and in 
the midst of unbeautiful things, and whatever they do will 
still be spurious, vulgar, and valueless. 

I repeat, that I do not ask you nor wish you to build a 
new Pisa for them. We don't want either the life or the 



MODERN MANUFACTURE AND DESIGN 227 

decorations of the thirteenth century back again; and the 
circumstances with which you must surround your work- 
men are those simply of happy modern English life, be- 
cause the designs you have now to ask for from your work- 
men are such as will make modern English life beautiful. 
All that gorgeousness of the Middle Ages, beautiful as it 
sounds in description, noble as in many respects it was in 
reality, had, nevertheless, for foundation and for end, noth- 
ing but the pride of life — the pride of the so-called superior 
classes; a pride which supported itself by violence and rob- 
bery, and led in the end to the destruction both of the arts 
themselves and the States in which they flourished. 

The great lesson of history is, that all the fine arts hith- 
erto — having been supported by the selfish power of the 
noblesse, and never having extended their range to the 
comfort or the relief of the mass of the people — the arts, I 
say, thus practised, and thus matured, have only accelerated 
the ruin of the States they adorned; and at the moment 
when, in any kingdom, you point to the triumphs of its 
greatest artists, you point also to the determined hour of the 
kingdom's decline. The names of great painters are like 
passing bells: in the name of Velasquez, you hear sounded 
the fall of Spain; in the name of Titian, that of Venice; in 
the name of Leonardo, that of Milan; in the name of 
Raphael, that of Rome. And there is profound justice in 
this; for in proportion to the nobleness of the power is the 
guilt of its use for purposes vain or vile; and hitherto the 
greater the art, the more surely has it been used, and used 
solely, for the decoration of pride, or the provoking of sen- 
suality. Another course lies open to us. We may abandon 
the hope — or if you like the words better — we may disdain 
the temptation, of the pomp and grace of Italy in her youth. 
For us there can be no more the throne of marble — for us 
no more the vault of gold — but for us there is the loftier and 
lovelier privilege of bringing the power and charm of art 
within the reach of the humble and the poor; and as the 
magnificence of past ages failed by its narrowness and its 



228 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

pride, ours may prevail and continue, by its universality 
and its lowliness. . . . 

And you must remember always that your business, as 
manufacturers, is to form the market, as much as to supply 
it. If, in short-sighted and reckless eagerness for wealth, you 
catch at every humour of the populace as it shapes itself into 
momentary demand — if, in jealous rivalry with neighbour- 
ing States, or with other producers, you try to attract atten- 
tion by singularities, novelties, and gaudinesses — to make 
every design an advertisement, and pilfer every idea of a 
successful neighbour's, that you may insidiously imitate it, 
or pompously eclipse — no good design will ever be possible 
to you, or perceived by you. You may, by accident, snatch 
the market; or, by energy, command it; you may obtain the 
confidence of the public, and cause the ruin of opponent 
houses; or you may, with equal justice of fortune, be ruined 
by them. But whatever happens to you, this, at least, is cer- 
tain, that the whole of your life will have been spent in cor- 
rupting public taste and encouraging public extravagance. 
Every preference you have won by gaudiness must have 
been based on the purchaser's vanity; every demand you 
have created by novelty has fostered in the consumer a habit 
of discontent; and when you retire into inactive life, you 
may, as a subject of consolation for your declining years, 
reflect that precisely according to the extent of your past 
operations, your life has been successful in retarding the 
arts, tarnishing the virtues, and confusing the manners of 
your country. 



UNTO THIS LAST 



The Roots of Honour 

Among the delusions which at different periods have pos- 
sessed themselves of the minds of large masses of the human 
race, perhaps the most curious — certainly the least credita- 
ble — is the modern soi-disant science of political economy, 
based on the idea that an advantageous code of social action 
may be determined irrespectively of the influence of social 
affection. 

Of course, as in the instances of alchemy, astrology, witch- 
craft, and other such popular creeds, political economy has 
a plausible idea at the root of it. "The social affections," 
says the economist, "are accidental and disturbing elements 
in human nature; but avarice and the desire of progress are 
constant elements. Let us eliminate the inconstants, and, 
considering the human being merely as a covetous machine, 
examine by what laws of labour, purchase, and sale, the 
greatest accumulative result in wealth is obtainable. Those 
laws once determined, it will be for each individual after- 
wards to introduce as much of the disturbing affectionate 
element as he chooses, and to determine for himself the 
result on the new conditions supposed." 

This would be a perfectly logical and successful method 
of analysis, if the accidentals afterwards to be introduced 
were of the same nature as the powers first examined. Sup- 
posing a body in motion to be influenced by constant and 
inconstant forces, it is usually the simplest way of examin- 
ing its course to trace it first under the persistent conditions, 



230 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

and afterwards introduce the causes of variation. But the 
disturbing elements in the social problem are not of the 
same nature as the constant ones: they alter the essence 
of the creature under examination the moment they are 
added; they operate, not mathematically, but chemically, 
introducing conditions which render all our previous knowl- 
edge unavailable. We made learned experiments upon pure 
nitrogen, and have convinced ourselves that it is a very 
manageable gas: but, behold! the thing which we have prac- 
tically to deal with is its chloride; and this, the moment 
we touch it on our established principles, sends us and our 
apparatus through the ceiling. 

Observe, I neither impugn nor doubt the conclusion of 
the science if its terms are accepted. I am simply uninter- 
ested in them, as I should be in those of a science of gym- 
nastics which assumed that men had no skeletons. It might 
be shown, on that supposition, that it would be advanta- 
geous to roll the students up into pellets, flatten them into 
cakes, or stretch them into cables; and that when these 
results were effected, the re-insertion of the skeleton would 
be attended with various inconveniences to their constitu- 
tion. The reasoning might be admirable, the conclusions 
true, and the science deficient only in applicability. Modern 
political economy stands on a precisely similar basis. As- 
suming, not that the human being has no skeleton, but 
that it is all skeleton, it founds an ossifiant theory of prog- 
ress on this negation of a soul; and having shown the utmost 
that may be made of bones, and constructed a number 
of interesting geometrical figures with death's-head and 
humeri, successfully proves the inconvenience of the reap- 
pearance of a soul among these corpuscular structures. I do 
not deny the truth of this theory: I simply deny its applica- 
bility to the present phase of the world. 

This inapplicability has been curiously manifested during 
the embarrassment caused by the late strikes of our work- 
men. Here occurs one of the simplest cases, in a pertinent 
and positive form, of the first vital problem which political 



THE ROOTS OF HONOUR 231 

economy has to deal with (the relation between employer 
and employed); and, at a severe crisis, when lives in mul- 
titudes and wealth in masses are at stake, the political 
economists are helpless — practically mute: no demonstrable 
solution of the difficulty can be given by them, such as may 
convince or calm the opposing parties. Obstinately the mas- 
ters take one view of the matter; obstinately the operatives 
another; and no political science can set them at one. 

It would be strange if it could, it being not by "science" 
of any kind that men were ever intended to be set at one. 
Disputant after disputant vainly strives to show that the 
interests of the masters are, or are not, antagonistic to those 
of the men: none of the pleaders ever seeming to remember 
that it does not absolutely or always follow that the persons 
must be antagonistic because their interests are. If there is 
only a crust of bread in the house, and mother and children 
are starving, their interests are not the same. If the mother 
eats it, the children want it; if the children eat it, the 
mother must go hungry to her work. Yet it does not neces- 
sarily follow that there will be "antagonism" between them, 
that they will fight for the crust, and that the mother, being 
strongest, will get it, and eat it. Neither, in any other case, 
whatever the relations of the persons may be, can it be 
assumed for certain that, because their interests are diverse, 
they must necessarily regard each other with hostility, and 
use violence or cunning to obtain the advantage. 

Even if this were so, and it were as just as it is convenient 
to consider men as actuated by no other moral influences 
than those which affect rats or swine, the logical conditions 
of the question are still indeterminable. It can never be 
shown generally either that the interests of master and 
labourer are alike, or that they are opposed; for, according 
to circumstances, they may be either. It is, indeed, always 
the interest of both that the work should be rightly done, 
and a just price obtained for it; but, in the division of 
profits, the gain of the one may or may not be the loss of 
the other. It is not the master's interest to pay wages so low 



232 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

as to leave the men sickly and depressed, nor the workman's 
interest to be paid high wages if the smallness of the master's 
profit hinders him from enlarging his business, or conduct- 
ing it in a safe and liberal way. A stoker ought not to desire 
high pay if the company is too poor to keep the engine- 
wheels in repair. 

And the varieties of circumstances which influence these 
reciprocal interests are so endless, that all endeavour to 
deduce rules of action from balance of expediency is in vain. 
And it is meant to be in vain. For no human actions ever 
were intended by the Maker of men to be guided by bal- 
ances of expediency, but by balances of justice. He has 
therefore rendered all endeavours to determine expediency 
futile for evermore. No man ever knew, or can know, what 
will be the ultimate result to himself, or to others, of any 
given line of conduct. But every man may know, and most 
of us do know, what is a just and unjust act. And all of us 
may know also, that the consequences of justice will be 
ultimately the best possible, both to others and ourselves, 
though we can neither say what is best, or how it is likely 
to come to pass. 

I have said balances of justice, meaning, in the term 
justice, to include affection, — such affection as one man 
owes to another. All right relations between master and 
operative, and all their best interests, ultimately depend on 
these. 

We shall find the best and simplest illustration of the 
relations of master and operative in the position of domestic 
servants. 

We will suppose that the master of a household desires 
only to get as much work out of his servants as he can, at 
the rate of wages he gives. He never allows them to be 
idle; feeds them as poorly and lodges them as ill as they 
will endure, and in all things pushes his requirements to 
the exact point beyond which he cannot go without forcing 
the servant to leave him. In doing this, there is no viola- 
tion on his part of what is commonly called "justice." He 



THE ROOTS OF HONOUR 233 

agrees with the domestic for his whole time and service, 
and takes them; — the limits of hardship in treatment being 
fixed by the practice of other masters in his neighbourhood; 
that is to say, by the current rate of wages for domestic 
labour. If the servant can get a better place, he is free to 
take one, and the master can only tell what is the real 
market value of his labour, by requiring as much as he will 
give. 

This is the politico-economical view of the case, accord- 
ing to the doctors of that science; who assert that by this 
procedure the greatest average of work will be obtained 
from the servant, and therefore the greatest benefit to the 
community, and through the community, by reversion, to 
the servant himself. 

That, however, is not so. It would be so if the servant 
were an engine of which the motive power was steam, mag- 
netism, gravitation, or any other agent of calculable force. 
But he being, on the contrary, an engine whose motive 
power is a Soul, the force of this very peculiar agent, as 
an unknown quantity, enters into all the political econo- 
mist's equations, without his knowledge, and falsifies every 
one of their results. The largest quantity of work will not be 
done by this curious engine for pay, or under pressure, or 
by help of any kind of fuel which may be supplied by the 
chaldron. It will be done only when the motive force, that 
is to say, the will or spirit of the creature, is brought to its 
greatest strength by its own proper fuel: namely, by the 
affections. . . . 

In any case, and with any person, this unselfish treatment 
will produce the most effective return. Observe, I am here 
considering the affections wholly as a motive power; not at 
all as things in themselves desirable or noble, or in any other 
way abstractedly good. I look at them simply as an anoma- 
lous force, rendering every one of the ordinary political 
economist's calculations nugatory; while, even if he desired 
to introduce this new element into his estimates, he has no 
power of dealing with it; for the affections only become a 



284 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

true motive power when they ignore every other motive and 
condition of political economy. Treat the servant kindly, 
with the idea of turning his gratitude to account, and you 
will get, as you deserve, no gratitude, nor any value for 
your kindness; but treat him kindly without any economical 
purpose, and all economical purposes will be answered; in 
this, as in all other matters, whosoever will save his life shall 
lose it, whoso loses it shall find it.* 

The next clearest and simplest example of relation be- 
tween master and operative is that which exists between the 
commander of a regiment and his men. 

Supposing the officer only desires to apply the rules of 
discipline so as, with least trouble to himself, to make the 
regiment most effective, he will not be able, by any rules or 
administration of rules, on this selfish principle, to develop 
the full strength of his subordinates. If a man of sense and 
firmness, he may, as in the former instance, produce a better 
result than would be obtained by the irregular kindness of a 
weak officer; but let the sense and firmness be the same in 
both cases, and assuredly the officer who has the most direct 
personal relations with his men, the most care for their 
interests, and the most value for their lives, will develop 

* The difference between the two modes of treatment, and between 
their effective material results, may be seen very accurately by a com- 
parison of the relations of Esther and Charlie in Bleak House with 
those of Miss Brass and the Marchioness in Master Humphrey's Clock. 
The essential value and truth of Dickens's writings have been un- 
wisely lost sight of by many thoughtful persons, merely because he 
presents his truth with some colour of caricature. Allowing for his 
manner of telling them, the things he tells us are always true. I wish 
that he could think it right to limit his brilliant exaggeration to works 
written only for public amusement; and when he takes up a subject 
of high national importance, such as that which he handled in Hard 
Times, that he would use severer and more accurate analysis. The 
usefulness of that work (to my mind, in several respects the greatest 
he has written) is with many persons seriously diminished because 
Mr. Bounderby is a dramatic monster, instead of a characteristic ex- 
ample of a worldly master; and Stephen Blackpool a dramatic per- 
fection, instead of a characteristic example of an honest workman. But 
let us not lose the use of Dickens's wit and insight, because he chooses 
to speak in a circle of stage fire. [Ruskin's note.] 



THE ROOTS OF HONOUR 235 

their effective strength, through their affection for his own 
person, and trust in his character, to a degree wholly unat- 
tainable by other means. This law applies still more strin- 
gently as the numbers concerned are larger: a charge may 
often be successful, though the men dislike their officers; a 
battle has rarely been won, unless they loved their general. 

Passing from these simple examples to the more compli- 
cated relations existing between a manufacturer and his 
workmen, we are met first by certain curious difficulties, 
resulting, apparently, from a harder and colder state of 
moral elements. It is easy to imagine an enthusiastic affec- 
tion existing among soldiers for the colonel. Not so easy 
to imagine an enthusiastic affection among cotton-spinners 
for the proprietor of the mill. A body of men associated for 
purposes of robbery (as a Highland clan in ancient times) 
shall be animated by perfect affection, and every member 
of it be ready to lay down his life for the life of his chief. 
But a band of men associated for purposes of legal produc- 
tion and accumulation is usually animated, it appears, by 
no such emotions, and none of them are in any wise willing 
to give his life for the life of his chief. Not only are we met 
by this apparent anomaly, in moral matters, but by others 
connected with it, in administration of system. For a servant 
or a soldier is engaged at a definite rate of wages, for a 
definite period; but a workman at a rate of wages variable 
according to the demand for labour, and with the risk of 
being at any time thrown out of his situation by chances of 
trade. Now, as, under these contingencies, no action of the 
affections can take place, but only an explosive action of 
efo'saffections, two points offer themselves for consideration 
in the matter. 

The first — How far the rate of wages may be so regulated 
as not to vary with the demand for labour. 

The second — How far it is possible that bodies of work- 
men may be engaged and maintained at such fixed rate of 
wages (whatever the state of trade may be), without enlarg- 
ing or diminishing their number, so as to give them per- 



236 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

manent interest in the establishment with which they are 
connected, like that of the domestic servants in an old fam- 
ily, or an esprit de corps, like that of the soldiers in a crack 
regiment. 

The first question is, I say, how far it may be possible to 
fix the rate of wages, irrespectively of the demand for labour. 

Perhaps one of the most curious facts in the history of 
human error is the denial by the common political econo- 
mist of the possibility of thus regulating wages; while, for 
all the important, and much of the unimportant, labour, 
on the earth, wages are already so regulated. 

We do not sell our prime-ministership by Dutch auction; 
nor, on the decease of a bishop, whatever may be the general 
advantages of simony, do we (yet) offer his diocese to the 
clergyman who will take the episcopacy at the lowest con- 
tract. We (with exquisite sagacity of political economy!) do 
indeed sell commissions; but not openly, generalships: sick, 
we do not inquire for a physician who takes less than a 
guinea; litigious, we never think of reducing six-and-eight- 
pence to four-and-sixpence; caught in a shower, we do not 
canvass the cabmen, to find one who values his driving at 
less than sixpence a mile. 

It is true that in all these cases there is, and in every 
conceivable case there must be, ultimate reference to the 
presumed difficulty of the work, or number of candidates 
for the office. If it were thought that the labour necessary 
to make a good physician would be gone through by a 
sufficient number of students with the prospect of only 
half-guinea fees, public consent would soon withdraw the 
unnecessary half-guinea. In this ultimate sense, the price 
of labour is indeed always regulated by the demand for 
it; but, so far as the practical and immediate administra- 
tion of the matter is regarded, the best labour always has 
been, and is, as all labour ought to be, paid by an in- 
variable standard. 

"What!" the reader perhaps answers amazedly: "pay good 
and bad workmen alike?" 

Certainly. The difference between one prelate's sermons 



THE ROOTS OF HONOUR 237 

and his successor's — or between one physician's opinion and 
another's — is far greater, as respects the qualities of mind 
involved, and far more important in result to you person- 
ally, than the difference between good and bad laying of 
bricks (though that is greater than most people suppose). 
Yet you pay with equal fee, contentedly, the good and bad 
workmen upon your soul, and the good and bad workmen 
upon your body; much more may you pay, contentedly, 
with equal fees, the good and bad workmen upon your 
house. 

"Nay, but I choose my physician and (?) my clergyman, 
thus indicating my sense of the quality of their work." By 
all means, also, choose your bricklayer; that is the proper 
reward of the good workman, to be "chosen." The natural 
and right system respecting all labour is, that it should be 
paid at a fixed rate, but the good workman employed, and 
the bad workman unemployed. The false, unnatural, and 
destructive system is when the bad workman is allowed to 
offer his work at half-price, and either take the place of the 
good, or force him by his competition to work for an inade- 
quate sum. 

This equality of wages, then, being the first object toward 
which we have to discover the directest available road; the 
second is, as above stated, that of maintaining constant num- 
bers of workmen in employment, whatever may be the acci- 
dental demand for the article they produce. 

I believe the sudden and extensive inequalities of de- 
mand, which necessarily arise in the mercantile operations 
of an active nation, constitute the only essential difficulty 
which has to be overcome in a just organization of labour. 
The subject opens into too many branches to admit of being 
investigated in a paper of this kind; but the following gen- 
eral facts bearing on it may be noted. 

The wages which enable any workman to live are neces- 
sarily higher, if his work is liable to intermission, than if it 
is assured and continuous; and however severe the struggle 
for work may become, the general law will always hold, that 
men must get more daily pay if, on the average, they can 



238 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

only calculate on work three days a week than they would 
require if they were sure of work six days a week. Supposing 
that a man cannot live on less than a shilling a day, his 
seven shillings he must get, either for three days' violent 
work, or six days' deliberate work. The tendency of all 
modern mercantile operations is to throw both wages and 
trade into the form of a lottery, and to make the workman's 
pay depend on intermittent exertion, and the principal's 
profit on dexterously used chance. 

In what partial degree, I repeat, this may be necessary in 
consequence of the activities of modern trade, I do not here 
investigate; contenting myself with the fact, that in its fatal- 
est aspects it is assuredly unnecessary, and results merely 
from love of gambling on the part of the masters, and from 
ignorance and sensuality in the men. The masters cannot 
bear to let any opportunity of gain escape them, and franti- 
cally rush at every gap and breach in the walls of Fortune, 
raging to be rich, and affronting, with impatient covetous- 
ness, every risk of ruin, while the men prefer three days of 
violent labour, and three days of drunkenness, to six days 
of moderate work and wise rest. . . . 

I have already alluded to the difference hitherto existing 
between regiments of men associated for purposes of vio- 
lence, and for purposes of manufacture; in that the former 
appear capable of self-sacrifice — the latter, not; which singu- 
lar fact is the real reason of the general lowness of estimate 
in which the profession of commerce is held, as compared 
with that of arms. Philosophically, it does not, at first sight, 
appear reasonable (many writers have endeavoured to prove 
it unreasonable) that a peaceable and rational person, whose 
trade is buying and selling, should be held in less honour 
than an unpeaceable and often irrational person, whose 
trade is slaying. Nevertheless, the consent of mankind has 
always, in spite of the philosophers, given precedence to the 
soldier. 

And this is right. 

For the soldier's trade, verily and essentially, is not slay- 



THE ROOTS OF HONOUR 239 

ing, but being slain. This, without well knowing its own 
meaning, the world honours it for. A bravo's trade is slay- 
ing; but the world has never respected bravos more than 
merchants: the reason it honours the soldier is, because he 
holds his life at the service of the State. Reckless he may be 
— fond of pleasure or of adventure — all kinds of bye-motives 
and mean impulses may have determined the choice of his 
profession, and may affect (to all appearance exclusively) his 
daily conduct in it; but our estimate of him is based on 
this ultimate fact — of which we are well assured — that put 
him in a fortress breach, with all the pleasures of the world 
behind him, and only death and his duty in front of him, 
he will keep his face to the front; and he knows that his 
choice may be put to him at any moment — and has before- 
hand taken his part — virtually takes such part continually — 
does, in reality, die daily. 

Not less is the respect we pay to the lawyer and physician, 
founded ultimately on their self-sacrifice. Whatever the 
learning or acuteness of a great lawyer, our chief respect for 
him depends on our belief that, set in a judge's seat, he will 
strive to judge justly, come of it what may. Could we sup- 
pose that he would take bribes, and use his acuteness and 
legal knowledge to give plausibility to iniquitous decisions, 
no degree of intellect would win for him our respect. Noth- 
ing will win it, short of our tacit conviction, that in all im- 
portant acts of his life justice is first with him; his own 
interest, second. 

In the case of a physician, the ground of the honour we 
render him is clearer still. Whatever his science, we would 
shrink from him in horror if we found him regard his 
patients merely as subjects to experiment upon; much more, 
if we found that, receiving bribes from persons interested 
in their deaths, he was using his best skill to give poison 
in the mask of medicine. 

Finally, the principle holds with utmost clearness as it 
respects clergymen. No goodness of disposition will excuse 
want of science in a physician, or of shrewdness in an ad- 



240 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

vocate; but a clergyman, even though his power of intellect 
be small, is respected on the presumed ground of his un- 
selfishness and serviceableness. 

Now, there can be no question but that the tact, fore- 
sight, decision, and other mental powers, required for the 
successful management of a large mercantile concern, if 
not such as could be compared with those of a great lawyer, 
general, or divine, would at least match the general condi- 
tions of mind required in the subordinate officers of a ship, 
or of a regiment, or in the curate of a country parish. If, 
therefore, all the efficient members of the so-called liberal 
professions are still, somehow, in public estimate of honour, 
preferred before the head of a commercial firm, the reason 
must lie deeper than in the measurement of their several 
powers of mind. 

And the essential reason for such preference will be found 
to lie in the fact that the merchant is presumed to act 
always selfishly. His work may be very necessary to the 
community; but the motive of it is understood to be wholly 
personal. The merchant's first object in all his dealings must 
be (the public believe) to get as much for himself, and 
leave as little to his neighbour (or customer) as possible. 
Enforcing this upon him, by political statute, as the neces- 
sary principle of his action; recommending it to him on all 
occasions, and themselves reciprocally adopting it, proclaim- 
ing vociferously, for law of the universe, that a buyer's 
function is to cheapen, and a seller's to cheat, — the public, 
nevertheless, involuntarily condemn the man of commerce 
for his compliance with their own statement, and stamp him 
for ever as belonging to an inferior grade of human per- 
sonality. 

This they will find, eventually, they must give up doing. 
They must not cease to condemn selfishness; but they will 
have to discover a kind of commerce which is not exclusively 
selfish. Or, rather, they will have to discover that there 
never was, or can be, any other kind of commerce; that this 
which they have called commerce was not commerce at all, 



THE ROOTS OF HONOUR 241 

but cozening; and that a true merchant differs as much from 
a merchant according to laws of modern political economy, 
as the hero of the Excursion from Autolycus. They will find 
that commerce is an occupation which gentlemen will every 
day see more need to engage in, rather than in the businesses 
of talking to men, or slaying them; that, in true commerce, 
as in true preaching, or true fighting, it is necessary to admit 
the idea of occasional voluntary loss; — that sixpences have 
to be lost, as well as lives, under a sense of duty; that the 
market may have its martyrdoms as well as the pulpit; and 
trade its heroisms as well as war. 

May have — in the final issue, must have — and only has 
not had yet, because men of heroic temper have always been 
misguided in their youth into other fields; not recognizing 
what is in our days, perhaps, the most important of all 
fields; so that, while many a zealous person loses his life in 
trying to teach the form of a gospel, very few will lose a 
hundred pounds in showing the practice of one. 

The fact is, that people never have had clearly explained 
to them the true functions of a merchant with respect to 
other people. I should like the reader to be very clear about 
this. 

Five great intellectual professions, relating to daily neces- 
sities of life, have hitherto existed — three exist necessarily, 
in every civilized nation: 

The Soldier's profession is to defend it. 

The Pastor's to teach it. 

The Physician's to keep it in health. 

The Lawyer's to enforce justice in it. 

The Merchant's to provide for it. 
And the duty of all these men is, on due occasion, to die 
for it. 

"On due occasion," namely: — 

The Soldier, rather than leave his post in battle. 

The Physician, rather than leave his post in plague. 

The Pastor, rather than teach Falsehood. 

The Lawyer, rather than countenance Injustice. 



242 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

The Merchant — what is his "due occasion" of death? 

It is the main question for the merchant, as for all of us. 
For, truly, the man who does not know when to die, does 
not know how to live. 

Observe, the merchant's function (or manufacturer's, for 
in the broad sense in which it is here used the word must 
be understood to include both) is to provide for the nation. 
It is no more his function to get profit for himself out of 
that provision than it is a clergyman's function to get his 
stipend. This stipend is a due and necessary adjunct, but 
not the object of his life, if he be a true clergyman, any more 
than his fee (or honorarium) is the object of life to a true 
physician. Neither is his fee the object of life to a true 
merchant. All three, if true men, have a work to be done 
irrespective of fee — to be done even at any cost, or for quite 
the contrary of fee; the pastor's function being to teach, 
the physician's to heal, and the merchant's, as I have said, 
to provide. That is to say, he has to understand to their 
very root the qualities of the thing he deals in, and the 
means of obtaining or producing it; and he has to apply 
all his sagacity and energy to the producing or obtaining 
it in perfect state, and distributing it at the cheapest pos- 
sible price where it is most needed. 

And because the production or obtaining of any com- 
modity involves necessarily the agency of many lives and 
hands, the merchant becomes in the course of his business 
the master and governor of large masses of men in a more 
direct, though less confessed way, than a military officer or 
pastor; so that on him falls, in great part, the responsibility 
for the kind of life they lead: and it becomes his duty, 
not only to be always considering how to produce what he 
sells, in the purest and cheapest forms, but how to make the 
various employments involved in the production, or trans- 
ference of it, most beneficial to the men employed. 

And as into these two functions, requiring for their right 
exercise the highest intelligence, as well as patience, kind- 
ness, and tact, the merchant is bound to put all his energy, 
so for their just discharge he is bound, as soldier or physi- 



THE ROOTS OF HONOUR 243 

cian is bound, to give up, if need be, his life, in such way 
as it may be demanded of him. Two main points he has 
in his providing function to maintain: first, his engagements 
(faithfulness to engagements being the real root of all pos- 
sibilities, in commerce); and, secondly, the perfectness and 
purity of the thing provided; so that, rather than fail in any 
engagement, or consent to any deterioration, adulteration, 
or unjust and exorbitant price of that which he provides, 
he is bound to meet fearlessly any form of distress, poverty, 
or labour, which may, through maintenance of these points, 
come upon him. 

Again: in his office as governor of the men employed by 
him, the merchant or manufacturer is invested with a dis- 
tinctly paternal authority and responsibility. In most cases, 
a youth entering a commercial establishment is withdrawn 
altogether from home influence; his master must become his 
father, else he has, for practical and constant help, no father 
at hand: in all cases the master's authority, together with the 
general tone and atmosphere of his business, and the char- 
acter of the men with whom the youth is compelled in the 
course of it to associate, have more immediate and pressing 
weight than the home influence, and will usually neutralize 
it either for good or evil; so that the only means which the 
master has of doing justice to the men employed by him 
is to ask himself sternly whether he is dealing with such 
subordinate as he would with his own son, if compelled 
by circumstances to take such a position. 

Supposing the captain of a frigate saw it right, or were 
by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position 
of a common sailor: as he would then treat his son, he is 
bound always to treat every one of the men under him. 
So, also, supposing the master of a manufactory saw it right, 
or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the 
position of an ordinary workman; as he would then treat 
his son, he is bound always to treat every one of his men. 
This is the only effective, true, or practical Rule which can 
be given on this point of political economy. 

And as the captain of a ship is bound to be the last man 



244 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

to leave his ship in case of wreck, and to share his last crust 
with the sailors in case of famine, so the manufacturer, in 
any commercial crisis or distress, is bound to take the suf- 
fering of it with his men, and even to take more of it for 
himself than he allows his men to feel; as a father would 
in a famine, shipwreck, or battle, sacrifice himself for his 
son. 

All which sounds very strange: the only real strangeness 
in the matter being, nevertheless, that it should so sound. 
For all this is true, and that not partially nor theoretically, 
but everlastingly and practically: all other doctrine than 
this respecting matters political being false in premises, 
absurd in deduction, and impossible in practice, consistently 
with any progressive state of national life; all the life which 
we now possess as a nation showing itself in the resolute 
denial and scorn, by a few strong minds and faithful hearts, 
of the economic principles taught to our multitudes, which 
principles, so far as accepted, lead straight to national de- 
struction. Respecting the modes and forms of destruction to 
which they lead, and, on the other hand, respecting the 
farther practical working of true polity, I hope to reason 
farther in a following paper. 

The Veins of Wealth 

The answer which would be made by any ordinary political 
economist to the statements contained in the preceding 
paper, is in few words as follows: — 

"It is indeed true that certain advantages of a general 
nature may be obtained by the development of social affec- 
tions. But political economists never professed, nor profess, 
to take advantages of a general nature into consideration. 
Our science is simply the science of getting rich. So far from 
being a fallacious or visionary one, it is found by experience 
to be practically effective. Persons who follow its precepts 
do actually become rich, and persons who disobey them be- 



THE VEINS OF WEALTH 245 

come poor. Every capitalist of Europe has acquired his for- 
tune by following the known laws of our science, and in- 
creases his capital daily by an adherence to them. It is vain 
to bring forward tricks of logic, against the force of accom- 
plished facts. Every man of business knows by experience 
how money is made, and how it is lost." 

Pardon me. Men of business do indeed know how they 
themselves made their money, or how, on occasion, they 
lost it. Playing a long-practised game, they are familiar with 
the chances of its cards, and can rightly explain their losses 
and gains. But they neither know who keeps the bank of 
the gambling-house, nor what other games may be played 
with the same cards, nor what other losses and gains, far 
away among the dark streets, are essentially, though in- 
visibly, dependent on theirs in the lighted rooms. They have 
learned a few, and only a few, of the laws of mercantile 
economy; but not one of those of political economy. 

Primarily, which is very notable and curious, I observe 
that men of business rarely know the meaning of the word 
"rich." At least, if they know, they do not in their reason- 
ings allow for the fact, that it is a relative word, implying 
its opposite "poor" as positively as the word "north" implies 
its opposite "south." Men nearly always speak and write 
as if riches were absolute, and it were possible, by follow- 
ing certain scientific precepts, for everybody to be rich. 
Whereas riches are a power like that of electricity, acting 
only through inequalities or negations of itself. The force 
of the guinea you have in your pocket depends wholly on 
the default of a guinea in your neighbour's pocket. If he 
did not want it, it would be of no use to you; the degree 
of power it possesses depends accurately upon the need or 
desire he has for it, — and the art of making yourself rich, 
in the ordinary mercantile economist's sense, is therefore 
equally and necessarily the art of keeping your neighbour 
poor. 

I would not contend in this matter (and rarely in any 
matter) for the acceptance of terms. But I wish the reader 



246 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

clearly and deeply to understand the difference between the 
two economies, to which the terms "Political" and "Mer- 
cantile" might not unadvisedly be attached. 

Political economy (the economy of a State, or of citizens) 
consists simply in the production, preservation, and distri- 
bution, at fittest time and place, of useful or pleasurable 
things. The farmer who cuts his hay at the right time; the 
shipwright who drives his bolts well home in sound wood; 
the builder who lays good bricks in well-tempered mortar; 
the housewife who takes care of her furniture in the parlour, 
and guards against all waste in her kitchen; and the singer 
who rightly disciplines, and never overstrains her voice, are 
all political economists in the true and final sense: adding 
continually to the riches and well-being of the nation to 
which they belong. 

But mercantile economy, the economy of "merces" or of 
"pay," signifies the accumulation, in the hands of individ- 
uals, of legal or moral claim upon, or power over, the 
labour of others; every such claim implying precisely as 
much poverty or debt on one side, as it implies riches or 
right on the other. . . . 

Now, the establishment of such inequality cannot be 
shown in the abstract to be either advantageous or dis- 
advantageous to the body of the nation. The rash and ab- 
surd assumption that such inequalities are necessarily ad- 
vantageous, lies at the root of most of the popular fallacies 
on the subject of political economy. For the eternal and 
inevitable law in this matter is, that the beneficialness of 
the inequality depends, first, on the methods by which it 
was accomplished; and, secondly, on the purposes to which 
it is applied. Inequalities of wealth, unjustly established, 
have assuredly injured the nation in which they exist during 
their establishment; and, unjustly directed, injure it yet 
more during their existence. But inequalities of wealth, 
justly established, benefit the nation in the course of their 
establishment; and, nobly used, aid it yet more by their 
existence. That is to say, among every active and well- 



THE VEINS OF WEALTH 247 

governed people, the various strength of individuals, tested 
by full exertion and specially applied to various need, issues 
in unequal, but harmonious results, receiving reward or 
authority according to its class and service; while, in the 
inactive or ill-governed nation, the gradations of decay and 
the victories of treason work out also their own rugged 
system of subjection and success; and substitute, for the 
melodious inequalities of concurrent power, the iniquitous 
dominances and depressions of guilt and misfortune. 

Thus the circulation of wealth in a nation resembles that 
of the blood in the natural body. There is one quickness of 
the current which comes of cheerful emotion or wholesome 
exercise; and another which comes of shame or of fever. 
There is a flush of the body which is full of warmth and 
life; and another which will pass into putrefaction. 

The analogy will hold down even to minute particulars. 
For as diseased local determination of the blood involves 
depression of the general health of the system, all morbid 
local action of riches will be found ultimately to involve a 
weakening of the resources of the body politic. 

The mode in which this is produced may be at once 
understood by examining one or two instances of the devel- 
opment of wealth in the simplest possible circumstances. 

Suppose two sailors cast away on an uninhabited coast, 
and obliged to maintain themselves there by their own 
labour for a series of years. 

If they both kept their health, and worked steadily and 
in amity with each other, they might build themselves a 
convenient house, and in time come to possess a certain 
quantity of cultivated land, together with various stores laid 
up for future use. All these things would be real riches or 
property; and, supposing the men both to have worked 
equally hard, they would each have right to equal share or 
use of it. Their political economy would consist merely in 
careful preservation and just division of these possessions. 
Perhaps, however, after some time one or other might be 
dissatisfied with the results of their common farming; and 



248 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

they might in consequence agree to divide the land they 
had brought under the spade into equal shares, so that each 
might thenceforward work in his own field, and live by it. 
Suppose that after this arrangement had been made, one of 
them were to fall ill, and be unable to work on his land 
at a critical time — say of sowing or harvest. 

He would naturally ask the other to sow or reap for him. 

Then his companion might say, with perfect justice, "I 
will do this additional work for you; but if I do it, you 
must promise to do as much for me at another time. I 
will count how many hours I spend on your ground, and 
you shall give me a written promise to work for the same 
number of hours on mine, whenever I need your help, and 
you are able to give it." 

Suppose the disabled man's sickness to continue, and that 
under various circumstances, for several years, requiring 
the help of the other, he on each occasion gave a written 
pledge to work, as soon as he was able, at his companion's 
orders, for the same number of hours which the other had 
given up to him. What will the positions of the two men be 
when the invalid is able to resume work? 

Considered as a "Polis," or state, they will be poorer than 
they would have been otherwise: poorer by the withdrawal 
of what the sick man's labour would have produced in the 
interval. His friend may perhaps have toiled with an energy 
quickened by the enlarged need, but in the end his own 
land and property must have suffered by the withdrawal 
of so much of his time and thought from them: and the 
united property of the two men will be certainly less than 
it would have been if both had remained in health and 
activity. 

But the relations in which they stand to each other are 
also widely altered. The sick man has not only pledged his 
labour for some years, but will probably have exhausted 
his own share of the accumulated stores, and will be in con- 
sequence for some time dependent on the other for food, 
which he can only "pay" or reward him for by yet more 
deeply pledging his own labour. 



THE VEINS OF WEALTH 249 

Supposing the written promises to be held entirely valid 
(among civilized nations their validity is secured by legal 
measures), the person who had hitherto worked for both 
might now, if he chose, rest altogether, and pass his time 
in idleness, not only forcing his companion to redeem all 
the engagements he had already entered into, but exacting 
from him pledges for further labour, to an arbitrary amount, 
for what food he had to advance to him. 

There might not, from first to last, be the least illegality 
(in the ordinary sense of the word) in the arrangement; 
but if a stranger arrived on the coast at this advanced epoch 
of their political economy, he would find one man com- 
mercially Rich; the other commercially Poor. He would 
see, perhaps, with no small surprise, one passing his days 
in idleness; the other labouring for both, and living sparely, 
in the hope of recovering his independence at some distant 
period. 

This is, of course, an example of one only out of many 
ways in which inequality of possession may be established 
between different persons, giving rise to the Mercantile 
forms of Riches and Poverty. In the instance before us, one 
of the men might from the first have deliberately chosen to 
be idle, and to put his life in pawn for present ease; or 
he might have mismanaged his land, and been compelled 
to have recourse to his neighbour for food and help, pledg- 
ing his future labour for it. But what I want the reader to 
note especially is the fact, common to a large number of 
typical cases of this kind, that the establishment of the 
mercantile wealth which consists in a claim upon labour, 
signifies a political diminution of the real wealth which 
consists in substantial possessions. 

Take another example, more consistent with the ordinary 
course of affairs of trade. Suppose that three men, instead 
of two, formed the little isolated republic, and found them- 
selves obliged to separate, in order to farm different pieces 
of land at some distance from each other along the coast: 
each estate furnishing a distinct kind of produce, and each 
more or less in need of the material raised on the other. 






250 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Suppose that the third man, in order to save the time of all 
three, undertakes simply to superintend the transference of 
commodities from one farm to the other; on condition of 
receiving some sufficiently remunerative share of every par- 
cel of goods conveyed, or of some other parcel received in 
exchange for it. 

If this carrier or messenger always brings to each estate, 
from the other, what is chiefly wanted, at the right time, 
the operations of the two farmers will go on prosperously, 
and the largest possible result in produce, or wealth, will 
be attained by the little community. But suppose no inter- 
course between the landowners is possible, except through 
the travelling agent; and that, after a time, this agent, 
watching the course of each man's agriculture, keeps back 
the articles with which he has been entrusted until there 
comes a period of extreme necessity for them, on one side 
or other, and then exacts in exchange for them all that 
the distressed farmer can spare of other kinds of produce: 
it is easy to see that by ingeniously watching his opportuni- 
ties, he might possess himself regularly of the greater part 
of the superfluous produce of the two estates, and at last, 
in some year of severest trial or scarcity, purchase both for 
himself and maintain the former proprietors thenceforward 
as his labourers or servants. 

This would be a case of commercial wealth acquired on 
the exactest principles of modern political economy. But 
more distinctly even than in the former instance, it is mani- 
fest in this that the wealth of the State, or of the three men 
considered as a society, is collectively less than it would 
have been had the merchant been content with juster profit. 
The operations of the two agriculturists have been cramped 
to the utmost; and the continual limitations of the supply 
of things they wanted at critical times, together with the 
failure of courage consequent on the prolongation of a 
struggle for mere existence, without any sense of permanent 
gain, must have seriously diminished the effective results 
of their labour; and the stores finally accumulated in the 



THE VEINS OF WEALTH 251 

merchant's hands will not in any wise be of equivalent value 
to those which, had his dealings been honest, would have 
filled at once the granaries of the farmers and his own. 

The whole question, therefore, respecting not only the 
advantage, but even the quantity, of national wealth, re- 
solves itself finally into one of abstract justice. It is im- 
possible to conclude, of any given mass of acquired wealth, 
merely by the fact of its existence, whether it signifies good 
or evil to the nation in the midst of which it exists. Its real 
value depends on the moral sign attached to it, just as 
sternly as that of a mathematical quantity depends on the 
algebraical sign attached to it. Any given accumulation of 
commercial wealth may be indicative, on the one hand, of 
faithful industries, progressive energies, and productive in- 
genuities: or, on the other, it may be indicative of mortal 
luxury, merciless tyranny, ruinous chicane. Some treasures 
are heavy with human tears, as an ill-stored harvest with 
untimely rain; and some gold is brighter in sunshine than 
it is in substance. 

And these are not, observe, merely moral or pathetic 
attributes of riches, which the seeker of riches may, if he 
chooses, despise; they are, literally and sternly, material at- 
tributes of riches, depreciating or exalting, incalculably, the 
monetary signification of the sum in question. One mass 
of money is the outcome of action which has created, — 
another, of action which has annihilated, — ten times as 
much in the gathering of it; such and such strong hands 
have been paralyzed, as if they had been numbed by night- 
shade: so many strong men's courage broken, so many pro- 
ductive operations hindered; this and the other false direc- 
tion given to labour, and lying image of prosperity set up, 
on Dura plains dug into seven-times-heated furnaces. That 
which seems to be wealth may in verity be only the gilded 
index of far-reaching ruin; a wrecker's handful of coin 
gleaned from the beach to which he has beguiled an argosy; 
a camp-follower's bundle of rags unwrapped from the breasts 
of goodly soldiers dead; the purchase-pieces of potter's 



252 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

fields, wherein shall be buried together the citizen and the 
stranger. 

And therefore, the idea that directions can be given for 
the gaining of wealth, irrespectively of the consideration of 
its moral sources, or that any general and technical law of 
purchase and gain can be set down for national practice, is 
perhaps the most insolently futile of all that ever beguiled 
men through their vices. So far as I know, there is not in 
history record of anything so disgraceful to the human intel- 
lect as the modern idea that the commercial text, "Buy in 
the cheapest market and sell in the dearest," represents, or 
under any circumstances could represent, an available prin- 
ciple of national economy. Buy in the cheapest market? — 
yes; but what made your market cheap? Charcoal may be 
cheap among your roof timbers after a fire, and bricks may 
be cheap in your streets after an earthquake; but fire and 
earthquake may not therefore be national benefits. Sell in 
the dearest? — Yes, truly; but what made your market dear? 
You sold your bread well to-day: was it to a dying man 
who gave his last coin for it, and will never need bread 
more; or to a rich man who to-morrow will buy your farm 
over your head; or to a soldier on his way to pillage the 
bank in which you have put your fortune? 

None of these things you can know. One thing only you 
can know: namely, whether this dealing of yours is a just 
and faithful one, which is all you need concern yourself 
about respecting it; sure thus to have done your own part 
in bringing about ultimately in the world a state of things 
which will not issue in pillage or in death. And thus every 
question concerning these things merges itself ultimately in 
the great question of justice. . . . 

It has been shown that the chief value and virtue of 
money consists in its having power over human beings; that, 
without this power, large material possessions are useless, 
and to any person possessing such power, comparatively un- 
necessary. But power over human beings is attainable by 
other means than by money. As I said a few pages back, the 



THE VEINS OF WEALTH 253 

money power is always imperfect and doubtful; there are 
many things which cannot be reached with it, others which 
cannot be retained by it. Many joys may be given to men 
which cannot be bought for gold, and many fidelities found 
in them which cannot be rewarded with it. 

Trite enough, — the reader thinks. Yes: but it is not so 
trite, — I wish it were, — that in this moral power, quite 
inscrutable and immeasurable though it be, there is a mone- 
tary value just as real as that represented by more ponder- 
ous currencies. A man's hand may be full of invisible gold, 
and the wave of it, or the grasp, shall do more than an- 
other's with a shower of bullion. This invisible gold, also, 
does not necessarily diminish in spending. Political econo- 
mists will do well some day to take heed of it, though they 
cannot take measure. 

But farther. Since the essence of wealth consists in its 
authority over men, if the apparent or nominal wealth fail 
in this power, it fails in essence; in fact, ceases to be wealth 
at all. It does not appear lately in England, that our author- 
ity over men is absolute. The servants show some disposi- 
tion to rush riotously upstairs, under an impression that 
their wages are not regularly paid. We should augur ill of 
any gentleman's property to whom this happened every 
other day in his drawing-room. 

So, also, the power of our wealth seems limited as respects 
the comfort of the servants, no less than their quietude. 
The persons in the kitchen appear to be ill-dressed, squalid, 
half-starved. One cannot help imagining that the riches of 
the establishment must be of a very theoretical and docu- 
mentary character. 

Finally. Since the essence of wealth consists in power 
over men, will it not follow that the nobler and the more 
in number the persons are over whom it has power, the 
greater the wealth? Perhaps it may even appear, after some 
consideration, that the persons themselves are the wealth — 
that these pieces of gold with which we are in the habit 
of guiding them, are, in fact, nothing more than a kind 



254 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

of Byzantine harness or trappings, very glittering and beau- 
tiful in barbaric sight, wherewith we bridle the creatures; 
but that if these same living creatures could be guided 
without the fretting and jingling of the Byzants in their 
mouths and ears, they might themselves be more valuable 
than their bridles. In fact, it may be discovered that the 
true veins of wealth are purple — and not in Rock, but in 
Flesh — perhaps even that the final outcome and consum- 
mation of all wealth is in the producing as many as possible 
full-breathed, bright-eyed, and happy-hearted human crea- 
tures. Our modern wealth, I think, has rather a tendency 
the other way; — most political economists appearing to 
consider multitudes of human creatures not conducive to 
wealth, or at best conducive to it only by remaining in a 
dim-eyed and narrow-chested state of being. 

Nevertheless, it is open, I repeat, to serious question, 
which I leave to the reader's pondering, whether, among 
national manufactures, that of Souls of a good quality may 
not at last turn out a quite leadingly lucrative one? Nay, 
in some far-away and yet undreamt-of hour, I can even 
imagine that England may cast all thoughts of possessive 
wealth back to the barbaric nations among whom they first 
arose; and that, while the sands of the Indus and adamant 
of Golconda may yet stiffen the housings of the charger, 
and flash from the turban of the slave, she, as a Christian 
mother, may at last attain to the virtues and the treasures 
of a Heathen one, and be able to lead forth her Sons, 
saying,— 

"These are my Jewels."* 



Ad Valorem 

[We have seen] that just payment of labour consisted in a 
sum of money which would approximately obtain equiva- 

* Said by the unadorned Cornelia of her sons, the Gracchi. 



AD VALOREM 255 

lent labour at a future time: we have now to examine the 
means of obtaining such equivalence. Which question in- 
volves the definition of Value, Wealth, Price, and Produce. 
None of these terms are yet denned so as to be under- 
stood by the public. But the last, Produce, which one 
might have thought the clearest of all, is, in use, the most 
ambiguous; and the examination of the kind of ambiguity 
attendant on its present employment will best open the way 
to our work- 
in his chapter on Capital, Mr. J. S. Mill instances, as a 
capitalist, a hardware manufacturer, who, having intended 
to spend a certain portion of the proceeds of his business in 
buying plate and jewels, changes his mind, and "pays it as 
wages to additional workpeople." The effect is stated by 
Mr. Mill to be, that "more food is appropriated to the con- 
sumption of productive labourers." 

Now I do not ask, though, had I written this paragraph, 
it would surely have been asked of me, What is to become 
of the silversmiths? If they are truly unproductive persons, 
we will acquiesce in their extinction. And though in an- 
other part of the same passage, the hardware merchant is 
supposed also to dispense with a number of servants, whose 
"food is thus set free for productive purposes," I do not in- 
quire what will be the effect, painful or otherwise, upon the 
servants, of this emancipation of their food. But I very 
seriously inquire why ironware is produce, and silverware 
is not? That the merchant consumes the one, and sells the 
other, certainly does not constitute the difference, unless it 
can be shown (which, indeed, I perceive it to be becoming 
daily more and more the aim of tradesmen to show) that 
commodities are made to be sold, and not to be consumed. 
The merchant is an agent of conveyance to the consumer 
in one case, and is himself the consumer in the other: but 
the labourers are in either case equally productive, since 
they have produced goods to the same value, if the hardware 
and the plate are both goods. 

And what distinction separates them? It is indeed pos- 



256 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

sible that in the "comparative estimate of the moralist," 
with which Mr. Mill says political economy has nothing to 
do (III. i. 2), a steel fork might appear a more substantial 
production than a silver one: we may grant also that knives, 
no less than forks, are good produce; and scythes and 
ploughshares serviceable articles. But, how of bayonets? 
Supposing the hardware merchant to effect large sales of 
these, by help of the "setting free" of the food of his ser- 
vants and his silversmith, — is he still employing productive 
labourers, or, in Mr. Mill's words, labourers who increase 
"the stock of permanent means of enjoyment" (I. iii. 4)? 
Or if, instead of bayonets, he supply bombs, will not the 
absolute and final "enjoyment" of even these energetically 
productive articles (each of which costs ten pounds) be de- 
pendent on a proper choice of time and place for their 
enfantement; choice, that is to say, depending on those 
philosophical considerations with which political economy 
has nothing to do? 

I should have regretted the need of pointing out incon- 
sistency in any portion of Mr. Mill's work, had not the value 
of his work proceeded from its inconsistencies. He deserves 
honour among economists by inadvertently disclaiming the 
principles which he states, and tacitly introducing the moral 
considerations with which he declares his science has no 
connection. Many of his chapters are, therefore, true and 
valuable; and the only conclusions of his which I have to 
dispute are those which follow from his premises. 

Thus, the idea which lies at the root of the passage we 
have just been examining, namely, that labour applied to 
produce luxuries will not support so many persons as labour 
applied to produce useful articles, is entirely true; but the 
instance given fails — and in four directions of failure at 
once — because Mr. Mill has not defined the real meaning 
of usefulness. The definition which he has given — "capacity 
to satisfy a desire, or serve a purpose" (III. i. 2) — applies 
equally to the iron and silver; while the true definition — 



AD VALOREM 257 

which he has not given, but which nevertheless underlies 
the false verbal definition in his mind, and comes out once 
or twice by accident (as in the words "any support to life 
or strength" in I. iii. 5) — applies to some articles of iron, 
but not to others, and to some articles of silver, but not 
to others. It applies to ploughs, but not to bayonets; and 
to forks, but not to filigree. 

The eliciting of the true definitions will give us the reply 
to our first question, "What is value?" respecting which, 
however, we must first hear the popular statements. 

"The word 'value/ when used without adjunct, always 
means, in political economy, value in exchange" (Mill, III. 
i. 2). So that, if two ships cannot exchange their rudders, 
their rudders are, in politico-economic language, of no value 
to either. 

But "the subject of political economy is wealth." — (Pre- 
liminary remarks, page 1.) 

And wealth "consists of all useful and agreeable objects 
which possess exchangeable value." — (Preliminary remarks, 
page 10.) 

It appears, then, according to Mr. Mill, that usefulness 
and agreeableness underlie the exchange value, and must be 
ascertained to exist in the thing, before we can esteem it an 
object of wealth. 

Now, the economical usefulness of a thing depends not 
merely on its own nature, but on the number of people who 
can and will use it. A horse is useless, and therefore unsale- 
able, if no one can ride, — a sword, if no one can strike, and 
meat, if no one can eat. Thus every material utility de- 
pends on its relative human capacity. 

Similarly: The agreeableness of a thing depends not 
merely on its own likeableness, but on the number of people 
who can be got to like it. The relative agreeableness, and 
therefore saleableness, of "a pot of the smallest ale," and of 
"Adonis painted by a running brook," depends virtually on 
the opinion of Demos, in the shape of Christopher Sly. 



258 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

That is to say, the agreeableness of a thing depends on its 
relatively human disposition.* Therefore, political economy, 
being a science of wealth, must be a science respecting 
human capacities and dispositions. But moral considera- 
tions have nothing to do with political economy (III. i. 2). 
Therefore, moral considerations have nothing to do with 
human capacities and dispositions. I do not wholly like the 
look of this conclusion. . . . 

Much store has been set for centuries upon the use 
of our English classical education. It were to be wished 
that our well-educated merchants recalled to mind always 
this much of their Latin schooling, — that the nominative 
of valorem (a word already sufficiently familiar to them) 
is valor; a word which, therefore, ought to be familiar to 
them. Valor, from valere, to be well or strong (vyiaiva))', — 
strong, in life (if a man), or valiant; strong, for life (if a 
thing), or valuable. To be "valuable," therefore, is to 
"avail towards life." A truly valuable or availing thing is 
that which leads to life with its whole strength. In propor- 
tion as it does not lead to life, or as its strength is broken, 
it is less valuable; in proportion as it leads away from life, 
it is unvaluable or malignant. 

The value of a thing, therefore, is independent of opin- 
ion, and of quantity. Think what you will of it, gain how 
much you may of it, the value of the thing itself is neither 
greater nor less. For ever it avails, or avails not; no estimate 
can raise, no disdain repress, the power which it holds from 
the Maker of things and of men. 

* These statements sound crude in their brevity; but will be found of 
the utmost importance when they are developed. Thus, in the above 
instance, economists have never perceived that disposition to buy is a 
wholly moral element in demand: that is to say, when you give a man 
half a crown, it depends on his disposition whether he is rich or poor 
with it — whether he will buy disease, ruin, and hatred, or buy health, 
advancement, and domestic love. And thus the agreeableness or ex- 
change value of every offered commodity depends on production, not 
merely of the commodity, but of buyers of it; therefore on the educa- 
tion of buyers, and on all the moral elements by which their disposi- 
tion to buy this, or that, is formed. [Ruskin's note.] 



AD VALOREM 259 

The real science of political economy, which has yet to 
be distinguished from the bastard science, as medicine from 
witchcraft, and astronomy from astrology, is that which 
teaches nations to desire and labour for the things that lead 
to life: and which teaches them to scorn and destroy the 
things that lead to destruction. And if, in a state of infancy, 
they supposed indifferent things, such as excrescences of 
shell-fish, and pieces of blue and red stone, to be valuable, 
and spent large measures of the labour which ought to be 
employed for the extension and ennobling of life, in diving 
or digging for them, and cutting them into various shapes, — 
or if, in the same state of infancy, they imagine precious 
and beneficent things, such as air, light, and cleanliness, to 
be valueless, — or if, finally, they imagine the conditions of 
their own existence, by which alone they can truly possess 
or use anything, such, for instance, as peace, trust, and love, 
to be prudently exchangeable, when the markets offer, for 
gold, iron, or excrescences of shells — the great and only sci- 
ence of Political Economy teaches them, in all these cases, 
what is vanity, and what substance; and how the service 
of Death, the Lord of Waste, and of eternal emptiness, 
differs from the service of Wisdom, the Lady of Saving, and 
of eternal fulness; she who has said, "I will cause those that 
love me to inherit Substance; and I will Fill their treas- 
ures."* 

The "Lady of Saving," in a profounder sense than that 
of the savings bank, though that is a good one: Madonna 
della Salute, — Lady of Health, — which, though commonly 
spoken of as if separate from wealth, is indeed a part of 
wealth. This word, "wealth," it will be remembered, is the 
next we have to define. 

"To be wealthy," says Mr. Mill, "is to have a large stock 
of useful articles." 

I accept this definition. Only let us perfectly understand 
it. My opponents often lament my not giving them enough 
logic: I fear I must at present use a little more than they 
* Proverbs 8:21. 



260 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

will like; but this business of Political Economy is no light 
one, and we must allow no loose terms in it. 

We have, therefore, to ascertain in the above definition, 
first, what is the meaning of "having," or the nature of 
Possession. Then what is the meaning of "useful," or the 
nature of Utility. 

And first of possession. At the crossing of the transepts 
of Milan Cathedral has lain, for three hundred years, the 
embalmed body of St. Carlo Borromeo. It holds a golden 
crosier, and has a cross of emeralds on its breast. Admitting 
the crosier and emeralds to be useful articles, is the body 
to be considered as "having" them? Do they, in the politico- 
economical sense of property, belong to it? If not, and if 
we may, therefore, conclude generally that a dead body 
cannot possess property, what degree and period of anima- 
tion in the body will render possession possible? 

As thus: lately in a wreck of a Calif ornian ship, one of 
the passengers fastened a belt about him with two hundred 
pounds of gold in it, with which he was found afterwards at 
the bottom. Now, as he was sinking — had he the gold? or 
had the gold him? 

And if, instead of sinking him in the sea by its weight, 
the gold had struck him on the forehead, and thereby 
caused incurable disease — suppose palsy or insanity, — would 
the gold in that case have been more a "possession" than 
in the first? Without pressing the inquiry up through in- 
stances of gradually increasing vital power over the gold 
(which I will, however, give, if they are asked for), I presume 
the reader will see that possession, or "having," is not an 
absolute, but a gradated, power; and consists not only in the 
quantity or nature of the thing possessed, but also (and in 
a greater degree) in its suitableness to the person possessing 
it and in his vital power to use it. 

And our definition of Wealth, expanded, becomes: "The 
possession of useful articles, which we can use." This is a 
very serious change. For wealth, instead of depending merely 
on a "have," is thus seen to depend on a "can." Gladiator's 



AD VALOREM 261 

death, on a "habet"; but soldier's victory, and State's salva- 
tion, on a "quo plurimum posset." (Liv. VII. 6.) And what 
we reasoned of only as accumulation of material, is seen to 
demand also accumulation of capacity.* 

So much for our verb. Next for our adjective. What is 
the meaning of "useful"? 

The inquiry is closely connected with the last. For what 
is capable of use in the hands of some persons, is capable, 
in the hands of others, of the opposite of use, called com- 
monly "from-use," or "ab-use." And it depends on the per- 
son, much more than on the article, whether its usefulness 
or ab-usefulness will be the quality developed in it. Thus, 
wine, which the Greeks, in their Bacchus, made rightly the 
type of all passion, and which, when used, "cheereth god 
and man" (that is to say, strengthens both the divine life, 
or reasoning power, and the earthy, or carnal power, of 
man); yet, when abused, becomes "Dion[y]sos," hurtful espe- 
cially to the divine part of man, or reason. And again, the 
body itself, being equally liable to use and to abuse, and, 
when rightly disciplined, serviceable to the State, both for 
war and labour, — but when not disciplined, or abused, 
valueless to the State, and capable only of continuing the 
private or single existence of the individual (and that but 

* In Munera Pulveris, Chapter I, Ruskin further elucidates this point: 
" 'Value' signifies the strength, or 'availing' of anything towards the 
sustaining of life, and is always twofold; that is to say, primarily, 
intrinsic, and secondarily, effectual . . . 

"Intrinsic value is the absolute power of anything to support life. . . . 
It does not in the least affect the intrinsic value of the wheat, the air, 
or the flowers, that men refuse or despise them. Used or not, their 
own power is in them, and that particular power is in nothing else. 

"But in order that this value of theirs may become effectual, a certain 
state is necessary in the recipient of it. The digesting, breathing, and 
perceiving functions must be perfect in the human creature before the 
food, air, or flowers can become of their full values to it. The produc- 
tion of effectual value, therefore, always involves two needs: first, the 
production of a thing essentially useful; then the production of the 
capacity to use it. Where the intrinsic value and acceptant capacity 
come together there is Effectual value, or wealth; where there is 
either no intrinsic value, or no acceptant capacity, there is no effectual 
value; that is to say, no wealth." 



262 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

feebly) — the Greeks called such a body an "idiotic" or 
"private" body, from their word signifying a person em- 
ployed in no way directly useful to the State; whence 
finally, our "idiot," meaning a person entirely occupied 
with his own concerns. 

Hence, it follows that if a thing is to be useful, it must 
be not only of an availing nature, but in availing hands. 
Or, in accurate terms, usefulness is value in the hands of 
the valiant; so that this science of wealth being, as we have 
just seen, when regarded as the science of Accumulation, 
accumulative of capacity as well as of material, — when re- 
garded as the Science of Distribution, is distribution not 
absolute, but discriminate; not of every thing to every man, 
but of the right thing to the right man. A difficult science, 
dependent on more than arithmetic. 

Wealth, therefore, is "the possession of the valuable 
by the valiant"; and in considering it as a power existing 
in a nation, the two elements, the value of the thing, and 
the valour of its possessor, must be estimated together. 
Whence it appears that many of the persons commonly con- 
sidered wealthy, are in reality no more wealthy than the 
locks of their own strong boxes are, they being inherently 
and eternally incapable of wealth; and operating for the 
nation, in an economical point of view, either as pools of 
dead water, and eddies in a stream (which, so long as the 
stream flows, are useless, or serve only to drown people, but 
may become of importance in a state of stagnation should 
the stream dry); or else, as dams in a river, of which the 
ultimate service depends not on the dam, but the miller; 
or else, as mere accidental stays and impediments, acting not 
as wealth, but (for we ought to have a correspondent term) 
as "illth," causing various devastation and trouble around 
them in all directions; or lastly, act not at all, but are merely 
animated conditions of delay, (no use being possible of any- 
thing they have until they are dead,) in which last condition 
they are nevertheless often useful as delays, and "impedi- 
menta," if a nation is apt to move too fast. 



AD VALOREM 263 

This being so, the difficulty of the true science of Political 
Economy lies not merely in the need of developing manly 
character to deal with material value, but in the fact, that 
while the manly character and material value only form 
wealth by their conjunction, they have nevertheless a mu- 
tually destructive operation on each other. For the manly 
character is apt to ignore, or even cast away, the material 
value: — whence that of Pope: — 

"Sure, of qualities demanding praise, 
More go to ruin fortunes, than to raise." 

And on the other hand, the material value is apt to under- 
mine the manly character; so that it must be our work, in 
the issue, to examine what evidence there is of the effect 
of wealth on the minds of its possessors; also, what kind of 
person it is who usually sets himself to obtain wealth, and 
succeeds in doing so; and whether the world owes more 
gratitude to rich or to poor men, either for their moral 
influence upon it, or for chief goods, discoveries, and practi- 
cal advancements. I may, however, anticipate future con- 
clusions, so far as to state that in a community regulated 
only by laws of demand and supply, but protected from 
open violence, the persons who become rich are, generally 
speaking, industrious, resolute, proud, covetous, prompt, 
methodical, sensible, unimaginative, insensitive, and ig- 
norant. The persons who remain poor are the entirely fool- 
ish, the entirely wise, the idle, the reckless, the humble, the 
thoughtful, the dull, the imaginative, the sensitive, the well- 
informed, the improvident, the irregularly and impulsively 
wicked, the clumsy knave, the open thief, and the entirely 
merciful, just, and godly person. 

Thus far, then, of wealth. Next, we have to ascertain the 
nature of Price; that is to say, of exchange value, and its 
expression by currencies. 

Note first, of exchange, there can be no profit in it. It is 
only in labour there can be profit — that is to say, a "making 
in advance," or "making in favour of" (from proficio). In 



264 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

exchange, there is only advantage, i.e., a bringing of vantage 
or power to the exchanging persons. Thus, one man, by 
sowing and reaping, turns one measure of corn into two 
measures. That is Profit. Another, by digging and forging, 
turns one spade into two spades. That is Profit. But the man 
who has two measures of corn wants sometimes to dig; and 
the man who has two spades wants sometimes to eat: — 
They exchange the gained grain for the gained tool; and 
both are the better for the exchange; but though there is 
much advantage in the transaction, there is no profit. Noth- 
ing is constructed or produced. Only that which had been 
before constructed is given to the person by whom it can be 
used. If labour is necessary to effect the exchange, that la- 
bour is in reality involved in the production, and, like all 
other labour, bears profit. Whatever number of men are 
concerned in the manufacture, or in the conveyance, have 
share in the profit; but neither the manufacture nor the 
conveyance are the exchange, and in the exchange itself 
there is no profit. . . . 

The Science of Exchange, or, as I hear it has been pro- 
posed to call it, of "Catallactics," considered as one of gain, 
is, therefore, simply nugatory; but considered as one of ac- 
quisition, it is a very curious science, differing in its data 
and basis from every other science known. Thus: — if I can 
exchange a needle with a savage for a diamond, my power 
of doing so depends either on the savage's ignorance of 
social arrangements in Europe, or on his want of power 
to take advantage of them, by selling the diamond to any 
one else for more needles. If, farther, I make the bargain 
as completely advantageous to myself as possible, by giving 
to the savage a needle with no eye in it (reaching, thus a 
sufficiently satisfactory type of the perfect operation of catal- 
lactic science), the advantage to me in the entire transac- 
tion depends wholly upon the ignorance, powerlessness, or 
heedlessness of the person dealt with. Do away with these, 
and catallactic advantage becomes impossible. So far, there- 
fore, as the science of exchange relates to the advantage of 



AD VALOREM 265 

one of the exchanging persons only, it is founded on the 
ignorance or incapacity of the opposite person. Where these 
vanish, it also vanishes. It is therefore a science founded 
on nescience, and an art founded on artlessness. But all 
other sciences and arts, except this, have for their object the 
doing away with their opposite nescience and artlessness. 
This science, alone of sciences, must, by all available means, 
promulgate and prolong its opposite nescience; otherwise 
the science itself is impossible. It is, therefore, peculiarly 
and alone the science of darkness; probably a bastard science 
— not by any means a divina scientia, but one begotten of 
another father, that father who, advising his children to 
turn stones into bread, is himself employed in turning bread 
into stones, and who, if you ask a fish of him (fish not being 
producible on his estate), can but give you a serpent. 

The general law, then, respecting just or economical ex- 
change, is simply this: — There must be advantage on both 
sides (or if only advantage on one, at least no disadvantage 
on the other) to the persons exchanging; and just payment 
for his time, intelligence, and labour, to any intermediate 
person effecting the transaction (commonly called a mer- 
chant); and whatever advantage there is on either side, and 
whatever pay is given to the intermediate person, should be 
thoroughly known to all concerned. All attempt at conceal- 
ment implies some practice of the opposite, or undivine sci- 
ence, founded on nescience. Whence another saying of the 
Jew merchant's* — "As a nail between the stone joints, so 
doth sin stick fast between buying and selling." . . . 

The last word which we have to define is "Production." 
I have hitherto spoken of all labour as profitable; because 
it is impossible to consider under one head the quality or 
value of labour, and its aim. But labour of the best quality 
may be various in aim. It may be either constructive 
("gathering," from con and struo), as agriculture; nugatory, 
as jewel-cutting; or destructive ("scattering," from de and 

* Solomon, whose "sayings on commerce" Ruskin had quoted in the 
third chapter of Unto This Last. 



266 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

struo), as war. It is not, however, always easy to prove la- 
bour, apparently nugatory, to be actually so; generally, the 
formula holds good: "he that gathereth not, scattereth"; 
thus, the jeweller's art is probably very harmful in its minis- 
tering to a clumsy and inelegant pride. So that, finally, I 
believe nearly all labour may be shortly divided into posi- 
tive and negative labour: positive, that which produces life; 
negative, that which produces death; the most directly nega- 
tive labour being murder, and the most directly positive, 
the bearing and rearing of children. . . . 

Labour being thus various in its result, the prosperity of 
any nation is in exact proportion to the quantity of labour 
which it spends in obtaining and employing means of life. 
Observe, — I say, obtaining and employing; that is to say, 
not merely wisely producing, but wisely distributing and 
consuming. Economists usually speak as if there were no 
good in consumption absolute. So far from this being so, 
consumption absolute is the end, crown, and perfection of 
production; and wise consumption is a far more difficult art 
than wise production. Twenty people can gain money for 
one who can use it; and the vital question, for individual 
and for nation, is, never "how much do they make?" but 
"to what purpose do they spend?" 

The reader may, perhaps, have been surprised at the slight 
reference I have hitherto made to "capital," and its func- 
tions. It is here the place to define them. 

Capital signifies "head, or source, or root material" — it is 
material by which some derivative or secondary good is 
produced. It is only capital proper (caput vivum, not caput 
mortuum) when it is thus producing something different 
from itself. It is a root, which does not enter into vital 
function till it produces something else than a root: namely, 
fruit. That fruit will in time again produce roots; and so all 
living capital issues in reproduction of capital; but capital 
which produces nothing but capital is only root producing 
root; bulb issuing in bulb, never in tulip; seed issuing in 
seed, never in bread. The Political Economy of Europe has 



AD VALOREM 267 

hitherto devoted itself wholly to the multiplication, or (less 
even) the aggregation, of bulbs. It never saw, nor conceived, 
such a thing as a tulip. Nay, boiled bulbs they might have 
been — glass bulbs — Prince Rupert's drops,* consummated 
in powder (well, if it were glass-powder and not gunpowder), 
for any end or meaning the economists had in defining the 
laws of aggregation. We will try and get a clearer notion of 
them. 

The best and simplest general type of capital is a well- 
made ploughshare. Now, if that ploughshare did nothing 
but beget other ploughshares, in a polypous manner, — how- 
ever the great cluster of polypous plough might glitter in 
the sun, it would have lost its function of capital. It becomes 
true capital only by another kind of splendour, — when it is 
seen "splendescere sulco," to grow bright in the furrow; 
rather with diminution of its substance, than addition, by 
the noble friction. And the true home question, to every 
capitalist and to every nation, is not, "how many ploughs 
have you?" but, "where are your furrows?" not — "how 
quickly will this capital reproduce itself?" — but, "what will 
it do during reproduction?" What substance will it furnish, 
good for life? what work construct, protective of life? if 
none, its own reproduction is useless — if worse than none, — 
(for capital may destroy life as well as support it), its own 
reproduction is worse than useless; it is merely an ad- 
vance from Tisiphone, on mortgage — not a profit by any 
means. . . . 

This being the real nature of capital, it follows that 
there are two kinds of true production, always going on in 
an active State: one of seed, and one of food; or produc- 
tion for the Ground, and for the Mouth; both of which 
are by covetous persons thought to be production only for 
the granary; whereas the function of the granary is but in- 
termediate and conservative, fulfilled in distribution; else it 
ends in nothing but mildew, and nourishment of rats and 

* Molten drops of glass, elongated and solidified by falling into 
water. If the tapered end is broken, the whole disintegrates into dust. 



268 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

worms. And since production for the Ground is only useful 
with future hope of harvest, all essential production is for 
the Mouth; and is finally measured by the mouth; hence, 
as I said above, consumption is the crown of production; 
and the wealth of a nation is only to be estimated by what 
it consumes. 

The want of any clear sight of this fact is the capital 
error, issuing in rich interest and revenue of error among 
the political economists. Their minds are continually set 
on money-gain, not on mouth-gain; and they fall into every 
sort of net and snare, dazzled by the coin-glitter as birds by 
the fowler's glass; or rather (for there is not much else like 
birds in them) they are like children trying to jump on the 
heads of their own shadows; the money-gain being only the 
shadow of the true gain, which is humanity. 

The final object of political economy, therefore, is to 
get good method of consumption, and great quantity of con- 
sumption: in other words, to use everything, and to use it 
nobly; whether it be substance, service, or service perfecting 
substance. The most curious error in Mr. Mill's entire 
work, (provided for him originally by Ricardo,) is his en- 
deavour to distinguish between direct and indirect service, 
and consequent assertion that a demand for commodities is 
not demand for labour (I. v. 9, et seq.). He distinguishes be- 
tween labourers employed to lay out pleasure grounds, and 
to manufacture velvet; declaring that it makes material dif- 
ference to the labouring classes in which of these two ways a 
capitalist spends his money; because the employment of the 
gardeners is a demand for labour, but the purchase of velvet 
is not. Error colossal, as well as strange. It will, indeed, 
make a difference to the labourer whether we bid him swing 
his scythe in the spring winds, or drive the loom in pesti- 
lential air; but, so far as his pocket is concerned, it makes 
to him absolutely no difference whether we order him to 
make green velvet, with seed and a scythe, or red velvet, 
with silk and scissors. Neither does it anywise concern him 
whether, when the velvet is made, we consume it by walking 



AD VALOREM 269 

on it, or wearing it, so long as our consumption of it is 
wholly selfish. But if our consumption is to be in anywise 
unselfish, not only our mode of consuming the articles we 
require interests him, but also the kind of article we require 
with a view to consumption. As thus (returning for a 
moment to Mr. Mill's great hardware theory): it matters, 
so far as the labourer's immediate profit is concerned, not 
an iron filing whether I employ him in growing a peach, or 
forging a bombshell; but my probable mode of consumption 
of those articles matters seriously. Admit that it is to be 
in both cases "unselfish," and the difference, to him, is final, 
whether when his child is ill, I walk into his cottage and 
give it the peach, or drop the shell down his chimney, and 
blow his roof off. 

The worst of it, for the peasant, is, that the capitalist's 
consumption of the peach is apt to be selfish, and of the 
shell, distributive; but, in all cases, this is the broad and 
general fact, that on due catallactic commercial principles, 
somebody's roof must go off in fulfilment of the bomb's 
destiny. You may grow for your neighbour, at your liking, 
grapes or grape-shot; he will also, catallactically, grow 
grapes or grape-shot for you, and you will each reap what 
you have sown. 

It is, therefore, the manner and issue of consumption 
which are the real tests of production. Production does not 
consist in things laboriously made, but in things serviceably 
consumable; and the question for the nation is not how 
much labour it employs, but how much life it produces. 
For as consumption is the end and aim of production, so 
life is the end and aim of consumption. 

I left this question to the reader's thought two months 
ago, choosing rather that he should work it out for him- 
self than have it sharply stated to him. But now, the 
ground being sufficiently broken (and the details into which 
the several questions, here opened, must lead us, being 
too complex for discussion in the pages of a periodical, so 
that I must pursue them elsewhere), I desire, in closing the 



270 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

series of introductory papers, to leave this one great fact 
clearly stated. There is no Wealth but Life. Life, includ- 
ing all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That 
country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number 
of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest 
who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the 
utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, 
and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others. 

A strange political economy; the only one, nevertheless, 
that ever was or can be: all political economy founded on 
self-interest being but the fulfilment of that which once 
brought schism into the Policy of angels, and ruin into the 
Economy of Heaven. 

"The greatest number of human beings noble and 
happy." But is the nobleness consistent with the number? 
Yes, not only consistent with it, but essential to it. The 
maximum of life can only be reached by the maximum of 
virtue. In this respect the law of human population differs 
wholly from that of animal life. The multiplication of 
animals is checked only by want of food, and by the hos- 
tility of races; the population of the gnat is restrained by 
the hunger of the swallow, and that of the swallow by the 
scarcity of gnats. Man, considered as an animal, is indeed 
limited by the same laws: hunger, or plague, or war, are the 
necessary and only restraints upon his increase, — effectual 
restraints hitherto, — his principal study having been how 
most swiftly to destroy himself, or ravage his dwelling-places, 
and his highest skill directed to give range to the famine, 
seed to the plague, and sway to the sword. But, considered 
as other than an animal, his increase is not limited by these 
laws. It is limited only by the limits of his courage and 
his love. Both of these have their bounds; and ought to 
have; his race has its bounds also; but these have not yet 
been reached, nor will be reached for ages. 

In all the ranges of human thought I know none so 
melancholy as the speculations of political economists on 
the population question. It is proposed to better the con- 



AD VALOREM 271 

dition of the labourer by giving him higher wages. "Nay," 
says the economist, — "if you raise his wages, he will either 
people down to the same point of misery at which you 
found him, or drink your wages away." He will. I know 
it. Who gave him this will? Suppose it were your own 
son of whom you spoke, declaring to me that you dared 
not take him into your firm, nor even give him his just 
labourer's wages, because if you did he would die of drunk- 
enness, and leave half a score of children to the parish. 
"Who gave your son these dispositions?" — I should enquire. 
Has he them by inheritance or by education? By one or 
other they must come; and as in him, so also in the poor. 
Either these poor are of a race essentially different from 
ours, and unredeemable (which, however, often implied, I 
have heard none yet openly say), or else by such care as we 
have ourselves received, we may make them continent and 
sober as ourselves — wise and dispassionate as we are — 
models arduous of imitation. "But," it is answered, "they 
cannot receive education." Why not? That is precisely the 
point at issue. Charitable persons suppose the worst fault of 
the rich is to refuse the people meat; and the people cry 
for their meat, kept back by fraud, to the Lord of Multi- 
tudes. Alas! it is not meat of which the refusal is crudest, or 
to which the claim is validest. The life is more than the 
meat. The rich not only refuse food to the poor; they refuse 
wisdom; they refuse virtue; they refuse salvation. Ye sheep 
without shepherd, it is not the pasture that has been shut 
from you, but the Presence. . . . 

If, on due and honest thought over these things, it seems 
that the kind of existence to which men are now summoned 
by every plea of pity and claim of right, may, for some 
time at least, not be a luxurious one; — consider whether, 
even supposing it guiltless, luxury would be desired by any 
of us, if we saw clearly at our sides the suffering which ac- 
companies it in the world. Luxury is indeed possible in the 
future — innocent and exquisite; luxury for all, and by the 
help of all; but luxury at present can only be enjoyed by 



272 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

the ignorant; the crudest man living could not sit at his 
feast, unless he sat blindfold. Raise the veil boldly; face the 
light; and if, as yet, the light of the eye can only be through 
tears, and the light of the body through sackcloth, go thou 
forth weeping, bearing precious seed, until the time come, 
and the kingdom, when Christ's gift of bread, and bequest 
of peace, shall be "Unto this last as unto thee"; and when, 
for earth's severed multitudes of the wicked and the weary, 
there shall be holier reconciliation than that of the narrow 
home, and calm economy, where the Wicked cease — not 
from trouble, but from troubling — and the Weary are at 
rest. 



THE CROWN OF WILD OLIVE 



Traffic* 

My good Yorkshire friends, you asked me down here 
among your hills that I might talk to you about this Ex- 
change you are going to build: but, earnestly and seriously 
asking you to pardon me, I am going to do nothing of the 
kind. I cannot talk, or at least can say very little, about this 
same Exchange. I must talk of quite other things, though 
not willingly; — I could not deserve your pardon, if, when 
you invited me to speak on one subject, I wilfully spoke on 
another. But I cannot speak, to purpose, of anything about 
which I do not care; and most simply and sorrowfully I 
have to tell you, in the outset, that I do not care about this 
Exchange of yours. 

If, however, when you sent me your invitation, I had 
answered, "I won't come, I don't care about the Exchange 
of Bradford," you would have been justly offended with me, 
not knowing the reasons of so blunt a carelessness. So I have 
come down, hoping that you will patiently let me tell you 
why, on this and many other such occasions, I now remain 
silent, when formerly I should have caught at the oppor- 
tunity of speaking to a gracious audience. 

In a word, then, I do not care about this Exchange — 
because you don't; and because you know perfectly well I 
cannot make you. Look at the essential conditions of the 
case, which you, as business men, know perfectly well, 
though perhaps you think I forget them. You are going to 
* Delivered in the Town Hall, Bradford, April 21, 1864. 



274 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

spend £30,000, which to you, collectively, is nothing; the 
buying a new coat is, as to the cost of it, a much more 
important matter of consideration to me, than building 
a new Exchange is to you. But you think you may as well 
have the right thing for your money. You know there are a 
great many odd styles of architecture about; you don't want 
to do anything ridiculous; you hear of me, among others, as 
a respectable architectural man-milliner; and you send for 
me, that I may tell you the leading fashion; and what is, 
in our shops, for the moment, the newest and sweetest thing 
in pinnacles. 

Now, pardon me for telling you frankly, you cannot have 
good architecture merely by asking people's advice on oc- 
casion. All good architecture is the expression of national 
life and character; and it is produced by a prevalent and 
eager national taste, or desire for beauty. And I want you 
to think a little of the deep significance of this word "taste"; 
for no statement of mine has been more earnestly or oftener 
controverted than that good taste is essentially a moral 
quality. "No," say many of my antagonists, "taste is one 
thing, morality is another. Tell us what is pretty: we shall 
be glad to know that; but we need no sermons — even were 
you able to preach them, which may be doubted." 

Permit me, therefore, to fortify this old dogma of mine 
somewhat. Taste is not only a part and an index of morality; 
— it is the only morality. The first, and last, and closest 
trial question to any living creature is, "What do you like?" 
Tell me what you like, and I'll tell you what you are. Go 
out into the street, and ask the first man or woman you 
meet, what their "taste" is; and if they answer candidly, you 
know them, body and soul. "You, my friend in the rags, with 
the unsteady gait, what do you like?" "A pipe, and a quar- 
tern of gin." I know you. "You, good woman, with the quick 
step and tidy bonnet, what do you like?" "A swept hearth, 
and a clean tea-table; and my husband opposite me, and a 
baby at my breast." Good, I know you also. "You, little girl 
with the golden hair and the soft eyes, what do you like?" 



TRAFFIC 275 

"My canary, and a run among the wood hyacinths." "You, 
little boy with the dirty hands, and the low forehead, what 
do you like?" "A shy at the sparrows, and a game at pitch 
farthing." Good; we know them all now. What more need 
we ask? 

"Nay," perhaps you answer; "we need rather to ask what 
these people and children do, than what they like. If they 
do right, it is no matter that they like what is wrong; and 
if they do wrong, it is no matter that they like what is right. 
Doing is the great thing; and it does not matter that the 
man likes drinking, so that he does not drink; nor that 
the little girl likes to be kind to her canary, if she will not 
learn her lessons; nor that the little boy likes throwing 
stones at the sparrows, if he goes to the Sunday school." 
Indeed, for a short time, and in a provisional sense, this is 
true. For if, resolutely, people do what is right, in time to 
come they like doing it. But they only are in a right moral 
state when they have come to like doing it; and as long as 
they don't like it, they are still in a vicious state. The man 
is not in health of body who is always thinking of the bottle 
in the cupboard, though he bravely bears his thirst; but the 
man who heartily enjoys water in the morning, and wine 
in the evening, each in its proper quantity and time. And 
the entire object of true education is to make people not 
merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things: — 
not merely industrious, but to love industry — not merely 
learned, but to love knowledge — not merely pure, but to 
love purity — not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after 
justice. 

But you may answer or think, "Is the liking for outside 
ornaments, — for pictures, or statues, or furniture, or archi- 
tecture, a moral quality?" Yes, most surely, if a rightly set 
liking. Taste for any pictures or statues is not a moral qual- 
ity, but taste for good ones is. Only here again we have to 
define the word "good." I don't mean by "good," clever — or 
learned — or difficult in the doing. Take a picture by Ten- 
iers, of sots quarrelling over their dice; it is an entirely 



276 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

clever picture; so clever that nothing in its kind has ever 
been done equal to it; but it is also an entirely base and 
evil picture. It is an expression of delight in the prolonged 
contemplation of a vile thing, and delight in that is an 
"unmannered," or "immoral" quality. It is "bad taste" in 
the profoundest sense — it is the taste of the devils. On the 
other hand, a picture of Titian's, or a Greek statue, or a 
Greek coin, or a Turner landscape, expresses delight in the 
perpetual contemplation of a good and perfect thing. That 
is an entirely moral quality — it is the taste of the angels. 
And all delight in fine art, and all love of it, resolve them- 
selves into simple love of that which deserves love. That de- 
serving is the quality which we call "loveliness" — (we ought 
to have an opposite word, hateliness, to be said of the things 
which deserve to be hated); and it is not an indifferent nor 
optional thing whether we love this or that; but it is just 
the vital function of all our being. What we like determines 
what we are, and is the sign of what we are; and to teach 
taste is inevitably to form character. 

As I was thinking over this, in walking up Fleet Street 
the other day, my eye caught the title of a book standing 
open in a bookseller's window. It was — "On the necessity 
of the diffusion of taste among all classes." "Ah," I thought 
to myself, "my classifying friend, when you have diffused 
your taste, where will your classes be? The man who likes 
what you like, belongs to the same class with you, I think. 
Inevitably so. You may put him to other work if you choose; 
but, by the condition you have brought him into, he will 
dislike the work as much as you would yourself. You get 
hold of a scavenger or a costermonger, who enjoyed the 
Newgate Calendar for literature, and Top goes the Weasel' 
for music. You think you can make him like Dante and 
Beethoven? I wish you joy of your lessons; but if you do, you 
have made a gentleman of him: — he won't like to go back 
to his costermongering." 

And so completely and unexceptionally is this so, that, 
if I had time to-night, I could show you that a nation can- 



TRAFFIC 277 

not be affected by any vice, or weakness, without expressing 
it, legibly, and for ever, either in bad art, or by want of art; 
and that there is no national virtue, small or great, which is 
not manifestly expressed in all the art which circumstances 
enable the people possessing that virtue to produce. Take, 
for instance, your great English virtue of enduring and 
patient courage. You have at present in England only one 
art of any consequence — that is, iron-working. You know 
thoroughly well how to cast and hammer iron. Now, do 
you think, in those masses of lava which you build volcanic 
cones to melt, and which you forge at the mouths of the 
Infernos you have created; do you think, on those iron 
plates, your courage and endurance are not written for ever, 
— not merely with an iron pen, but on iron parchment? And 
take also your great English vice — European vice — vice of 
all the world — vice of all other worlds that roll or shine in 
heaven, bearing with them yet the atmosphere of hell — 
the vice of jealousy, which brings competition into your 
commerce, treachery into your councils, and dishonour into 
your wars — that vice which has rendered for you, and for 
your next neighbouring nation, the daily occupations of 
existence no longer possible, but with the mail upon your 
breasts and the sword loose in its sheath; so that at last, you 
have realised for all the multitudes of the two great peoples 
who lead the so-called civilization of the earth, — you have 
realised for them all, I say, in person and in policy, what 
was once true only of the rough Border riders of your 
Cheviot hills — 

"They carved at the meal 
With gloves of steel, 

And they drank the red wine through the helmet barfd;"* — 
do you think that this national shame and dastardliness of 
heart are not written as legibly on every rivet of your iron 
armour as the strength of the right hands that forged it? 
Friends, I know not whether this thing be the more 

* Lay of the Last Minstrel, I, 31 ff. 



278 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

ludicrous or the more melancholy. It is quite unspeakably 
both. Suppose, instead of being now sent for by you, I had 
been sent for by some private gentleman, living in a subur- 
ban house, with his garden separated only by a fruit wall 
from his next door neighbour's; and he had called me to 
consult with him on the furnishing of his drawing-room. I 
begin looking about me, and find the walls rather bare; I 
think such and such a paper might be desirable — perhaps 
a little fresco here and there on the ceiling — a damask cur- 
tain or so at the windows. "Ah," says my employer, "damask 
curtains, indeed! That's all very fine, but you know I can't 
afford that kind of thing just now!" "Yet the world credits 
you with a splendid income!" "Ah, yes," says my friend, 
"but do you know, at present I am obliged to spend it 
nearly all in steel-traps?" "Steel-traps! for whom?" "Why, for 
that fellow on the other side the wall, you know: we're 
very good friends, capital friends; but we are obliged to 
keep our traps set on both sides of the wall; we could not 
possibly keep on friendly terms without them, and our 
spring guns. The worst of it is, we are both clever fellows 
enough; and there's never a day passes that we don't find 
out a new trap, or a new gun-barrel, or something; we spend 
about fifteen millions a year each in our traps, take it al- 
together; and I don't see how we're to do with less." A 
highly comic state of life for two private gentlemen! but for 
two nations, it seems to me, not wholly comic. Bedlam 
would be comic, perhaps, if there were only one madman in 
it; and your Christmas pantomime is comic, when there is 
only one clown in it; but when the whole world turns 
clown, and paints itself red with its own heart's blood 
instead of vermilion, it is something else than comic, I 
think. 

Mind, I know a great deal of this is play, and willingly 
allow for that. You don't know what to do with yourselves 
for a sensation: fox-hunting and cricketing will not carry 
you through the whole of this unendurably long mortal 
life: you liked pop-guns when you were schoolboys, and 



TRAFFIC 279 

rifles and Armstrongs are only the same things better made: 
but then the worst of it is, that what was play to you when 
boys, was not play to the sparrows; and what is play to 
you now, is not play to the small birds of State neither; 
and for the black eagles, you are somewhat shy of taking 
shots at them, if I mistake not.* 

I must get back to the matter in hand, however. Believe 
me, without farther instance, I could show you, in all time, 
that every nation's vice, or virtue, was written in its art: 
the soldiership of early Greece; the sensuality of late Italy; 
the visionary religion of Tuscany; the splendid human 
energy of Venice. I have no time to do this to-night (I 
have done it elsewhere before now); but I proceed to apply 
the principle to ourselves in a more searching manner. 

I notice that among all the new buildings which cover 
your once wild hills, churches and schools are mixed in due, 
that is to say, in large proportion, with your mills and man- 
sions; and I notice also that the churches and schools are 
almost always Gothic, and the mansions and mills are never 
Gothic. May I ask the meaning of this? for, remember, it is 
peculiarly a modern phenomenon. When Gothic was in- 
vented, houses were Gothic as well as churches; and when 
the Italian style superseded the Gothic, churches were 
Italian as well as houses. If there is a Gothic spire to the 
cathedral of Antwerp, there is a Gothic belfry to the Hotel 
de Ville at Brussels; if Inigo Jones builds an Italian White- 
hall, Sir Christopher Wren builds an Italian St. Paul's. 
But now you live under one school of architecture, and 
worship under another. What do you mean by doing this? 
Am I to understand that you are thinking of changing your 
architecture back to Gothic; and that you treat your 
churches experimentally, because it does not matter what 
mistakes you make in a church? Or am I to understand that 
you consider Gothic a pre-eminently sacred and beautiful 
mode of building, which you think, like the fine frankin- 

* An allusion to England's reluctance to aid the Danes in their strug- 
gle against Prussia and Austria. 



280 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

cense, should be mixed for the tabernacle only, and re- 
served for your religious services? For if this be the feeling, 
though it may seem at first as if it were graceful and rev- 
erent, at the root of the matter, it signifies neither more nor 
less than that you have separated your religion from your 
life. 

For consider what a wide significance this fact has: and 
remember that it is not you only, but all the people of 
England, who are behaving thus, just now. 

You have all got into the habit of calling the church "the 
house of God." I have seen, over the doors of many churches, 
the legend actually carved, "This is the house of God and 
this is the gate of heaven." Now, note where that legend 
comes from, and of what place it was first spoken. A boy 
leaves his father's house to go on a long journey on foot, to 
visit his uncle: he has to cross a wild hill-desert; just as if 
one of your own boys had to cross the wolds to visit an uncle 
at Carlisle. The second or third day your boy finds himself 
somewhere between Hawes and Brough, in the midst of the 
moors, at sunset. It is stony ground, and boggy; he cannot 
go one foot farther that night. Down he lies, to sleep, on 
Wharnside, where best he may, gathering a few of the stones 
together to put under his head; — so wild the place is, he 
cannot get anything but stones. And there, lying under the 
broad night, he has a dream; and he sees a ladder set up on 
the earth, and the top of it reaches to heaven, and the angels 
of God are seen ascending and descending upon it. And 
when he wakes out of his sleep, he says, "How dreadful is 
this place; surely this is none other than the house of God, 
and this is the gate of heaven." This place, observe; not 
this church; not this city; not this stone, even, which he puts 
up for a memorial — the piece of flint on which his head has 
lain. But this place; this windy slope of Wharnside; this 
moorland hollow, torrent-bitten, snow-blighted; this any 
place where God lets down the ladder. And how are you to 
know where that will be? or how are you to determine 
where it may be, but by being ready for it always? Do you 



TRAFFIC 281 

know where the lightning is to fall next? You do know 
that, partly; you can guide the lightning; but you cannot 
guide the going forth of the Spirit, which is as that light- 
ning when it shines from the east to the west. 

But the perpetual and insolent warping of that strong 
verse to serve a merely ecclesiastical purpose, is only one 
of the thousand instances in which we sink back into gross 
Judaism. We call our churches "temples." Now, you know 
perfectly well they are not temples. They have never had, 
never can have, anything whatever to do with temples. They 
are "synagogues" — "gathering places" — where you gather 
yourselves together as an assembly; and by not calling them 
so, you again miss the force of another mighty text — "Thou, 
when thou prayest, shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for 
they love to pray standing in the churches" [we should 
translate it], "that they may be seen of men. But thou, when 
thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut 
thy door, pray to thy Father," — which is, not in chancel nor 
in aisle, but "in secret." 

Now, you feel, as I say this to you — I know you feel — 
as if I were trying to take away the honour of your churches. 
Not so; I am trying to prove to you the honour of your 
houses and your hills; not that the Church is not sacred — 
but that the whole Earth is. I would have you feel what 
careless, what constant, what infectious sin there is in all 
modes of thought, whereby, in calling your churches only 
"holy," you call your hearths and homes "profane"; and 
have separated yourselves from the heathen by casting all 
your household gods to the ground, instead of recognizing, 
in the places of their many and feeble Lares, the presence 
of your One and Mighty Lord and Lar. 

"But what has all this to do with our Exchange?" you ask 
me, impatiently. My dear friends, it has just everything to do 
with it; on these inner and great questions depend all the 
outer and little ones; and if you have asked me down here 
to speak to you, because you had before been interested in 
anything I have written, you must know that all I have yet 



282 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

said about architecture was to show this. The book I called 
The Seven Lamps was to show that certain right states of 
temper and moral feeling were the magic powers by which 
all good architecture, without exception, had been pro- 
duced. The Stones of Venice had, from beginning to end, 
no other aim than to show that the Gothic architecture of 
Venice had arisen out of, and indicated in all its features, 
a state of pure national faith, and of domestic virtue; and 
that its Renaissance architecture had arisen out of, and in 
all its features indicated, a state of concealed national in- 
fidelity, and of domestic corruption. And now, you ask me 
what style is best to build in, and how can I answer, know- 
ing the meaning of the two styles, but by another question 
— do you mean to build as Christians or as infidels? And 
still more — do you mean to build as honest Christians or as 
honest Infidels? as thoroughly and confessedly either one 
or the other? You don't like to be asked such rude questions. 
I cannot help it; they are of much more importance than 
this Exchange business; and if they can be at once answered, 
the Exchange business settles itself in a moment. But before 
I press them farther, I must ask leave to explain one point 
clearly. 

In all my past work, my endeavour has been to show that 
good architecture is essentially religious — the production of 
a faithful and virtuous, not of an infidel and corrupted 
people. But in the course of doing this, I have had also to 
show that good architecture is not ecclesiastical. People are 
so apt to look upon religion as the business of the clergy, 
not their own, that the moment they hear of anything 
depending on "religion," they think it must also have de- 
pended on the priesthood; and I have had to take what 
place was to be occupied between these two errors, and 
fight both, often with seeming contradiction. Good archi- 
tecture is the work of good and believing men; therefore, 
you say, at least some people say, "Good architecture must 
essentially have been the work of the clergy, not of the 
laity." No — a thousand times no; good architecture has 
always been the work of the commonalty, not of the clergy. 



TRAFFIC 283 

"What," you say, "those glorious cathedrals — the pride of 
Europe — did their builders not form Gothic architecture?" 
No; they corrupted Gothic architecture. Gothic was formed 
in the baron's castle, and the burgher's street. It was formed 
by the thoughts, and hands, and powers of labouring citi- 
zens and warrior kings. By the monk it was used as an in- 
strument for the aid of his superstition: when that super- 
stition became a beautiful madness, and the best hearts of 
Europe vainly dreamed and pined in the cloister, and 
vainly raged and perished in the crusade, — through that 
fury of perverted faith and wasted war, the Gothic rose also 
to its loveliest, most fantastic, and, finally, most foolish 
dreams; and in those dreams was lost. 

I hope, now, that there is no risk of your misunderstand- 
ing me when I come to the gist of what I want to say to- 
night; — when I repeat, that every great national architecture 
has been the result and exponent of a great national re- 
ligion. You can't have bits of it here, bits there — you must 
have it everywhere or nowhere. It is not the monopoly of a 
clerical company — it is not the exponent of a theological 
dogma — it is not the hieroglyphic writing of an initiated 
priesthood; it is the manly language of a people inspired 
by resolute and common purpose, and rendering resolute 
and common fidelity to the legible laws of an undoubted 
God. 

Now there have as yet been three distinct schools of 
European architecture. I say, European, because Asiatic and 
African architectures belong so entirely to other races and 
climates, that there is no question of them here; only, in 
passing, I will simply assure you that whatever is good or 
great in Egypt, and Syria, and India, is just good or great 
for the same reasons as the buildings on our side of the 
Bosphorus. We Europeans, then, have had three great 
religions: the Greek, which was the worship of the God of 
Wisdom and Power; the Mediaeval, which was the worship 
of the God of Judgment and Consolation; the Renaissance, 
which was the worship of the God of Pride and Beauty: 
these three we have had — they are past, — and now, at last, 



284 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

we English have got a fourth religion, and a God of our 
own, about which I want to ask you. But I must explain 
these three old ones first. 

I repeat, first, the Greeks essentially worshipped the God 
of Wisdom; so that whatever contended against their re- 
ligion, — to the Jews a stumbling-block, — was, to the Greeks 
— Foolishness. 

The first Greek idea of deity was that expressed in the 
word, of which we keep the remnant in our words "Di- 
urnal" and "Dz-vine" — the god of Day, Jupiter the revealer. 
Athena is his daughter, but especially daughter of the In- 
tellect, springing armed from the head. We are only with 
the help of recent investigation beginning to penetrate the 
depth of meaning couched under the Athenaic symbols: but 
I may note rapidly, that her aegis, the mantle with the ser- 
pent fringes, in which she often, in the best statues, is 
represented as folding up her left hand, for better guard; and 
the Gorgon, on her shield, are both representative mainly 
of the chilling horror and sadness (turning men to stone, 
as it were,) of the outmost and superficial spheres of knowl- 
edge — that knowledge which separates, in bitterness, hard- 
ness, and sorrow, the heart of the full-grown man from the 
heart of the child. For out of imperfect knowledge spring 
terror, dissension, danger, and disdain; but from perfect 
knowledge, given by the full-revealed Athena, strength and 
peace, in sign of which she is crowned with the olive spray, 
and bears the resistless spear. 

This then, was the Greek conception of purest Deity; 
and every habit of life, and every form of his art developed 
themselves from the seeking this bright, serene, resistless 
wisdom; and setting himself, as a man, to do things ever- 
more rightly and strongly; not with any ardent affection or 
ultimate hope; but with a resolute and continent energy 
of will, as knowing that for failure there was no consolation, 
and for sin there was no remission. And the Greek archi- 
tecture rose unerring, bright, clearly defined, and self- 
contained. 



TRAFFIC 285 

Next followed in Europe the great Christian faith, which 
was essentially the religion of Comfort. Its great doctrine 
is the remission of sins; for which cause, it happens, too 
often, in certain phases of Christianity, that sin and sickness 
themselves are partly glorified, as if, the more you had to 
be healed of, the more divine was the healing. The practical 
result of this doctrine, in art, is a continual contemplation 
of sin and disease, and of imaginary states of purification 
from them; thus we have an architecture conceived in a 
mingled sentiment of melancholy and aspiration, partly 
severe, partly luxuriant, which will bend itself to every one 
of our needs, and every one of our fancies, and be strong 
or weak with us, as we are strong or weak ourselves. It is, 
of all architecture, the basest, when base people build it — 
of all, the noblest, when built by the noble. 

And now note that both these religions — Greek and 
Mediaeval — perished by falsehood in their own main pur- 
pose. The Greek religion of Wisdom perished in a false 
philosophy — "Oppositions of science, falsely so called." The 
Mediaeval religion of Consolation perished in false comfort; 
in remission of sins given lyingly. It was the selling of ab- 
solution that ended the Mediaeval faith; and I can tell you 
more, it is the selling of absolution which, to the end of 
time, will mark false Christianity. Pure Christianity gives 
her remission of sins only by ending them; but false Christi- 
anity gets her remission of sins by compounding for them. 
And there are many ways of compounding for them. We 
English have beautiful little quiet ways of buying absolu- 
tion, whether in low Church or high, far more cunning 
than any of Tetzel's trading.* 

Then, thirdly, there followed the religion of Pleasure, in 
which all Europe gave itself to luxury, ending in death. 
First, bals masques in every saloon, and then guillotines in 
every square. And all these three worships issue in vast 
temple building. Your Greek worshipped Wisdom, and built 

* Johann Tetzel, whose sale of papal indulgences aroused Luther's 
wrath and led ultimately to the Reformation. 



286 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

you the Parthenon — the Virgin's temple. The Mediaeval 
worshipped Consolation, and built you Virgin temples also 
— but to our Lady of Salvation. Then the Revivalist wor- 
shipped beauty, of a sort, and built you Versailles and the 
Vatican. Now, lastly, will you tell me what we worship, 
and what we build? 

You know we are speaking always of the real, active, 
continual, national worship; that by which men act, while 
they live; not that which they talk of, when they die. Now, 
we have, indeed, a nominal religion, to which we pay tithes 
of property and sevenths of time; but we have also a prac- 
tical and earnest religion, to which we devote nine-tenths 
of our property, and six-sevenths of our time. And we dis- 
pute a great deal about the nominal religion: but we are all 
unanimous about this practical one; of which I think you 
will admit that the ruling goddess may be best generally 
described as the "Goddess of Getting-on," or "Britannia of 
the Market." The Athenians had an "Athena Agoraia," or 
Athena of the Market; but she was a subordinate type of 
their goddess, while our Britannia Agoraia is the principal 
type of ours. And all your great architectural works are, of 
course, built to her. It is long since you built a great cathe- 
dral; and how you would laugh at me if I proposed build- 
ing a cathedral on the top of one of these hills of yours, to 
make it an Acropolis! But your railroad mounds, vaster 
than the walls of Babylon; your railroad stations, vaster 
than the temple of Ephesus, and innumerable; your chim- 
neys, how much more mighty and costly than cathedral 
spires! your harbour-piers; your warehouses; your ex- 
changes! — all these are built to your great Goddess of "Get- 
ting-on"; and she has formed, and will continue to form, 
your architecture, as long as you worship her; and it is 
quite vain to ask me to tell you how to build to her; you 
know far better than I. 

There might, indeed, on some theories, be a conceivably 
good architecture for Exchanges — that is to say, if there 
were any heroism in the fact or deed of exchange, which 
might be typically carved on the outside of your building. 



TRAFFIC 287 

For, you know, all beautiful architecture must be adorned 
with sculpture or painting; and for sculpture or painting, 
you must have a subject. And hitherto it has been a received 
opinion among the nations of the world that the only right 
subjects for either, were heroisms of some sort. Even on his 
pots and his flagons, the Greek put a Hercules slaying lions, 
or an Apollo slaying serpents, or Bacchus slaying melan- 
choly giants, and earthborn despondencies. On his temples, 
the Greek put contests of great warriors in founding states, 
or of gods with evil spirits. On his houses and temples alike, 
the Christian put carvings of angels conquering devils; or 
of hero-martyrs exchanging this world for another: subject 
inappropriate, I think, to our direction of exchange here. 
And the Master of Christians not only left His followers 
without any orders as to the sculpture of affairs of ex- 
change on the outside of buildings, but gave some strong 
evidence of His dislike of affairs of exchange within them. 
And yet there might surely be a heroism in such affairs; and 
all commerce become a kind of selling of doves, not impious. 
The wonder has always been great to me, that heroism has 
never been supposed to be in anywise consistent with the 
practice of supplying people with food, or clothes; but 
rather with that of quartering one's self upon them for food, 
and stripping them of their clothes. Spoiling of armour is 
an heroic deed in all ages; but the selling of clothes, old, or 
new, has never taken any colour of magnanimity. Yet one 
does not see why feeding the hungry and clothing the naked 
should ever become base businesses, even when engaged in 
on a large scale. If one could contrive to attach the notion 
of conquest to them anyhow! so that, supposing there were 
anywhere an obstinate race, who refused to be comforted, 
one might take some pride in giving them compulsory com- 
fort! and, as it were, "occupying a country" with one's gifts, 
instead of one's armies? If one could only consider it as 
much a victory to get a barren field sown, as to get an eared 
field stripped; and contend who should build villages, in- 
stead of who should "carry" them! Are not all forms of hero- 
ism conceivable in doing these serviceable deeds? You doubt 



288 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

who is strongest? It might be ascertained by push of spade, 
as well as push of sword. Who is wisest? There are witty 
things to be thought of in planning other business than 
campaigns. Who is bravest? There are always the elements 
to fight with, stronger than men; and nearly as merciless. 

The only absolutely and unapproachably heroic element 
in the soldier's work seems to be — that he is paid little for 
it — and regularly: while you traffickers, and exchangers, and 
others occupied in presumably benevolent business, like to 
be paid much for it — and by chance. I never can make out 
how it is that a knight-errant does not expect to be paid for 
his trouble, but a pedlar-errant always does; — that people 
are willing to take hard knocks for nothing, but never to 
sell ribands cheap; that they are ready to go on fervent 
crusades, to recover the tomb of a buried God, but never 
on any travels to fulfil the orders of a living one; — that 
they will go anywhere barefoot to preach their faith, but 
must be well bribed to practise it, and are perfectly ready 
to give the Gospel gratis, but never the loaves and fishes. 

If you chose to take the matter up on any such soldierly 
principle; to do your commerce, and your feeding of na- 
tions, for fixed salaries; and to be as particular about giving 
people the best food, and the best cloth, as soldiers are 
about giving them the best gunpowder, I could carve some- 
thing for you on your exchange worth looking at. But I 
can only at present suggest decorating its frieze with pendant 
purses; and making its pillars broad at the base, for the 
sticking of bills. And in the innermost chambers of it there 
might be a statue of Britannia of the Market, who may 
have, perhaps advisably, a partridge for her crest, typical 
at once of her courage in fighting for noble ideas, and of 
her interest in game; and round its neck, the inscription in 
golden letters, "Perdix fovit quae non peperit."* Then, for 

* Jerem, xvii. 11, (best in Septuagint and Vulgate). "As the partridge, 
fostering what she brought not forth, so he that getteth riches, not 
by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall 
be a fool." [Ruskin's note.] 



TRAFFIC 289 

her spear, she might have a weaver's beam; and on her 
shield, instead of St. George's Cross, the Milanese boar, 
semi-fleeced, with the town of Gennesaret proper, in the 
field; and the legend, "In the best market," and her corslet, 
of leather, folded over her heart in the shape of a purse, 
with thirty slits in it, for a piece of money to go in at, on 
each day of the month. And I doubt not but that people 
would come to see your exchange, and its goddess, with 
applause. 

Nevertheless, I want to point out to you certain strange 
characters in this goddess of yours. She differs from the 
great Greek and Mediaeval deities essentially in two things 
—first, as to the continuance of her presumed power; sec- 
ondly, as to the extent of it. 

1st, as to the Continuance. 

The Greek Goddess of Wisdom gave continual increase of 
wisdom, as the Christian Spirit of Comfort (or Comforter) 
continual increase of comfort. There was no question, with 
these, of any limit or cessation of function. But with your 
Agora Goddess, that is just the most important question. 
Getting on — but where to? Gathering together — but how 
much? Do you mean to gather always — never to spend? If 
so, I wish you joy of your goddess, for I am just as well off 
as you, without the trouble of worshipping her at all. But 
if you do not spend, somebody else will — somebody else 
must. And it is because of this (among many other such 
errors) that I have fearlessly declared your so-called science 
of Political Economy to be no science; because, namely, it 
has omitted the study of exactly the most important branch 
of the business — the study of spending. For spend you must, 
and as much as you make, ultimately. You gather corn: — 
will you bury England under a heap of grain; or will you, 
when you have gathered, finally eat? You gather gold: — will 
you make your house-roofs of it, or pave your streets with 
it? That is still one way of spending it. But if you keep it, 
that you may get more, I'll give you more; I'll give you all 
the gold you want— all you can imagine — if you can tell 






290 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

me what you'll do with it. You shall have thousands of gold 
pieces; — thousands of thousands — millions — mountains, of 
gold: where will you keep them? Will you put an Olympus 
of silver upon a golden Pelion — make Ossa like a wart? Do 
you think the rain and dew would then come down to you, 
in the streams from such mountains, more blessedly than 
they will down the mountains which God has made for 
you, of moss and whinstone? But it is not gold that you want 
to gather! What is it? greenbacks? No; not those neither. 
What is it then — is it ciphers after a capital I? Cannot you 
practise writing ciphers, and write as many as you want! 
Write ciphers for an hour every morning, in a big book, 
and say every evening, I am worth all those noughts more 
than I was yesterday. Won't that do? Well, what in the 
name of Plutus is it you want? Not gold, not greenbacks, 
not ciphers after a capital I? You will have to answer, after 
all, "No; we want, somehow or other, money's worth." Well, 
what is that? Let your Goddess of Getting-on discover it, 
and let her learn to stay therein. 

But there is yet another question to be asked respecting 
this Goddess of Getting-on. The first was of the continu- 
ance of her power; the second is of its extent. 

Pallas and the Madonna were supposed to be all the 
world's Pallas, and all the world's Madonna. They could 
teach all men, and they could comfort all men. But, look 
strictly into the nature of the power of your Goddess of 
Getting-on; and you will find she is the Goddess — not of 
everybody's getting on — but only of somebody's getting on. 
This is a vital, or rather deathful, distinction. Examine it 
in your own ideal of the state of national life which this 
Goddess is to evoke and maintain. I asked you what it was, 
when I was last here; — you have never told me. Now, shall 
I try to tell you? 

Your ideal of human life then is, I think, that it should 
be passed in a pleasant undulating world, with iron and 
coal everywhere underneath it. On each pleasant bank of 
this world is to be a beautiful mansion, with two wings; and 



TRAFFIC 291 

stables, and coach-houses; a moderately-sized park; a large 
garden and hot-houses; and pleasant carriage drives through 
the shrubberies. In this mansion are to live the favoured 
votaries of the Goddess; the English gentleman, with his 
gracious wife, and his beautiful family; he always able to 
have the boudoir and the jewels for the wife, and the 
beautiful ball dresses for the daughters, and hunters for 
the sons, and a shooting in the Highlands for himself. At 
the bottom of the bank, is to be the mill; not less than a 
quarter of a mile long, with one steam engine at each end, 
and two in the middle, and a chimney three hundred feet 
high. In this mill are to be in constant employment from 
eight hundred to a thousand workers, who never drink, 
never strike, always go to church on Sunday, and always 
express themselves in respectful language. 

Is not that, broadly, and in the main features, the kind 
of thing you propose to yourselves? It is very pretty indeed, 
seen from above; not at all so pretty, seen from below. For, 
observe, while to one family this deity is indeed the Goddess 
of Getting-on, to a thousand families she is the Goddess of 
not Getting-on. "Nay," you say, "they have all their chance." 
Yes, so has every one in a lottery, but there must always be 
the same number of blanks. "Ah! but in a lottery it is not 
skill and intelligence which take the lead, but blind 
chance." What then! do you think the old practice, that 
"they should take who have the power, and they should 
keep who can," is less iniquitous, when the power has be- 
come power of brains instead of fist? and that, though we 
may not take advantage of a child's or a woman's weakness, 
we may of a man's foolishness? "Nay, but finally, work must 
be done, and someone must be at the top, someone at the 
bottom." Granted, my friends. Work must always be, and 
captains of work must always be; and if you in the least 
remember the tone of any of my writings, you must know 
that they are thought unfit for this age, because they are 
always insisting on need of government, and speaking with 
scorn of liberty. But I beg you to observe that there is a 



292 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

wide difference between being captains or governors of 
work, and taking the profits of it. It does not follow, be- 
cause you are general of an army, that you are to take all 
the treasure, or land, it wins (if it fight for treasure or land); 
neither, because you are king of a nation, that you are to 
consume all the profits of the nation's work. Real kings, on 
the contrary, are known invariably by their doing quite the 
reverse of this — by their taking the least possible quantity 
of the nation's work for themselves. There is no test of real 
kinghood so infallible as that. Does the crowned creature 
live simply, bravely, unostentatiously? probably he is a King. 
Does he cover his body with jewels, and his table with 
delicates? in all probability he is not a King. It is possible 
he may be, as Solomon was; but that is when the nation 
shares his splendour with him. Solomon made gold, not only 
to be in his own palace as stones, but to be in Jerusalem as 
stones. But, even so, for the most part, these splendid king- 
hoods expire in ruin, and only the true kinghoods live, 
which are of royal labourers governing loyal labourers; 
who, both leading rough lives, establish the true dynasties. 
Conclusively you will find that because you are king of a 
nation, it does not follow that you are to gather for your- 
self all the wealth of that nation; neither, because you are 
king of a small part of the nation, and lord over the means 
of its maintenance — over field, or mill, or mine, — are you to 
take all the produce of that piece of the foundation of 
national existence for yourself. 

You will tell me I need not preach against these things, 
for I cannot mend them. No, good friends, I cannot; but 
you can, and you will; or something else can and will. Even 
good things have no abiding power — and shall these evil 
things persist in victorious evil? All history shows, on the 
contrary, that to be the exact thing they never can do. 
Change must come; but it is ours to determine whether 
change of growth, or change of death. Shall the Parthenon 
be in ruins on its rock, and Bolton priory in its meadow, 
but these mills of yours be the consummation of the build- 



TRAFFIC 293 

ings of the earth, and their wheels be as the wheels of 
eternity? Think you that "men may come, and men may 
go," but — mills — go on forever? Not so; out of these, better 
or worse shall come; and it is for you to choose which. 

I know that none of this wrong is done with deliberate 
purpose. I know, on the contrary, that you wish your work- 
men well; that you do much for them, and that you desire 
to do more for them, if you saw your way to such benevo- 
lence safely. I know that even all this wrong and misery are 
brought about by a warped sense of duty, each of you 
striving to do his best; but, unhappily, not knowing for 
whom this best should be done. And all our hearts have 
been betrayed by the plausible impiety of the modern 
economist, telling us that, "To do the best for ourselves, is 
finally to do the best for others." Friends, our great Master 
said not so; and most absolutely we shall find this world is 
not made so. Indeed, to do the best for others, is finally to 
do the best for ourselves; but it will not do to have our 
eyes fixed on that issue. The Pagans had got beyond that. 
Hear what a Pagan says of this matter; hear what were, 
perhaps, the last written words of Plato, — if not the last 
actually written (for this we cannot know), yet assuredly 
in fact and power his parting words — in which, endeavour- 
ing to give full crowning and harmonious close to all his 
thoughts, and to speak the sum of them by the imagined 
sentence of the Great Spirit, his strength and his heart fail 
him, and the words cease, broken off for ever. 

They are at the close of the dialogue called Critias, in 
which he describes, partly from real tradition, partly in 
ideal dream, the early state of Athens; and the genesis, and 
order, and religion, of the fabled isle of Atlantis; in which 
genesis he conceives the same first perfection and final 
degeneracy of man, which in our own Scriptural tradition 
is expressed by saying that the Sons of God inter-married 
with the daughters of men, for he supposes the earliest race 
to have been indeed the children of God; and to have cor- 
rupted themselves, until "their spot was not the spot of 



294 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

his children." And this, he says, was the end; that indeed 
"through many generations, so long as the God's nature in 
them yet was full, they were submissive to the sacred laws, 
and carried themselves lovingly to all that had kindred with 
them in divineness; for their uttermost spirit was faithful 
and true, and in every wise great; so that, in all meekness 
of wisdom, they dealt with each other, and took all the 
chances of life; and despising all things except virtue, they 
cared little what happened day by day, and bore lightly 
the burden of gold and of possessions; for they saw that, if 
only their common love and virtue increased, all these 
things would be increased together with them; but to set 
their esteem and ardent pursuit upon material possession 
would be to lose that first, and their virtue and affection 
together with it. And by such reasoning, and what of the 
divine nature remained in them, they gained all this great- 
ness of which we have already told; but when the God's 
part of them faded and became extinct, being mixed again 
and again, and effaced by the prevalent mortality; and the 
human nature at last exceeded, they then became unable 
to endure the courses of fortune; and fell into shapelessness 
of life, and baseness in the sight of him who could see, hav- 
ing lost everything that was fairest of their honour; while 
to the blind hearts which could not discern the true life, 
tending to happiness, it seemed that they were then chiefly 
noble and happy, being filled with all iniquity of inordinate 
possession and power. Whereupon, the God of Gods, whose 
Kinghood is in laws, beholding a once just nation thus cast 
into misery, and desiring to lay such punishment upon 
them as might make them repent into restraining, gathered 
together all the gods into his dwelling place, which from 
heaven's centre overlooks whatever has part in creation; 

and having assembled them, he said" 

The rest is silence. Last words of the chief wisdom of the 
heathen, spoken of this idol of riches; this idol of yours; 
this golden image, high by measureless cubits, set up where 
your green fields of England are furnace-burnt into the 



TRAFFIC 295 

likeness of the plain of Dura: this idol, forbidden to us, 
first of all idols, by our own Master and faith; forbidden 
to us also by every human lip that has ever, in any age or 
people, been accounted of as able to speak according to the 
purposes of God. Continue to make that forbidden deity 
your principal one, and soon no more art, no more science, 
no more pleasure will be possible. Catastrophe will come; 
or, worse than catastrophe, slow mouldering and withering 
into Hades. But if you can fix some conception of a true 
human state of life to be striven for — life, good for all men, 
as for yourselves; if you can determine some honest and 
simple order of existence; following those trodden ways of 
wisdom, which are pleasantness, and seeking her quiet and 
withdrawn paths, which are peace; — then, and so sancti- 
fying wealth into "commonwealth," all your art, your liter- 
ature, your daily labours, your domestic affection, and citi- 
zen's duty, will join and increase into one magnificent 
harmony. You will know then how to build, well enough; 
you will build with stone well, but with flesh better; temples 
not made with hands, but riveted of hearts; and that kind 
of marble, crimson-veined, is indeed eternal. 



SESAME AND LILIE 



Of Kings' Treasuries* 

"You shall each have a cake of sesame, — and ten pound." 

lucian: The Fisherman 

My first duty this evening is to ask your pardon for the 
ambiguity of title under which the subject of lecture has 
been announced: for indeed I am not going to talk of kings, 
known as regnant, nor of treasuries, understood to contain 
wealth; but of quite another order of royalty, and another 
material of riches, than those usually acknowledged. I had 
even intended to ask your attention for a little while on 
trust, and (as sometimes one contrives, in taking a friend to 
see a favourite piece of scenery) to hide what I wanted most 
to show, with such imperfect cunning as I might, until we 
unexpectedly reached the best point of view by winding 
paths. But — and as also I have heard it said, by men prac- 
tised in public address, that hearers are never so much 
fatigued as by the endeavour to follow a speaker who gives 
them no clue to his purpose, — I will take the slight mask 
off at once, and tell you plainly that I want to speak to you 
about the treasures hidden in books; and about the way we 
find them, and the way we lose them. A grave subject, you 
will say; and a wide one! Yes; so wide that I shall make no 
effort to touch the compass of it. I will try only to bring 
before you a few simple thoughts about reading, which 
press themselves upon me every day more deeply, as I watch 
* Delivered in the Town Hall, Rusholme, December 6, 1864. 



OF KINGS' TREASURIES 297 

the course of the public mind with respect to our daily 
enlarging means of education; and the answeringly wider 
spreading on the levels, of the irrigation of literature. . . . 
First of all, I tell you earnestly and authoritatively (I 
know I am right in this), you must get into the habit of 
looking intensely at words, and assuring yourself of their 
meaning, syllable by syllable — nay, letter by letter. For 
though it is only by reason of the opposition of letters in 
the function of signs, to sounds in the function of signs, 
that the study of books is called "literature," and that a 
man versed in it is called, by the consent of nations, a man 
of letters instead of a man of books, or of words, you may 
yet connect with that accidental nomenclature this real 
fact: — that you might read all the books in the British 
Museum (if you could live long enough), and remain an 
utterly "illiterate," uneducated person; but that if you read 
ten pages of a good book, letter by letter, — that is to say, 
with real accuracy, — you are for evermore in some measure 
an educated person. The entire difference between educa- 
tion and non-education (as regards the merely intellectual 
part of it), consists in this accuracy. ... A few words well 
chosen, and distinguished, will do work that a thousand 
cannot, when every one is acting, equivocally, in the func- 
tion of another. Yes; and words, if they are not watched, 
will do deadly work sometimes. There are masked words 
droning and skulking about us in Europe just now, — (there 
never were so many, owing to the spread of a shallow, 
blotching, blundering, infectious "information," or rather 
deformation, everywhere, and to the teaching of catechisms 
and phrases at school instead of human meanings) — there 
are masked words abroad, I say, which nobody understands, 
but which everybody uses, and most people will also fight 
for, live for, or even die for, fancying they mean this or 
that, or the other, of things dear to them: for such words 
wear chameleon cloaks — "ground-lion" cloaks, of the colour 
of the ground of any man's fancy: on that ground they lie 
in wait, and rend them with a spring from it. There never 



298 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

were creatures of prey so mischievous, never diplomatists so 
cunning, never poisoners so deadly, as these masked words; 
they are the unjust stewards of all men's ideas: whatever 
fancy or favourite instinct a man most cherishes, he gives 
to his favourite masked word to take care of for him; the 
word at last comes to have an infinite power over him, — 
you cannot get at him but by its ministry. . . . 

And now, merely for example's sake, I will with your 
permission, read a few lines of a true book with you, care- 
fully; and see what will come out of them. I will take a book 
perfectly known to you all. No English words are more 
familiar to us, yet few perhaps have been read with less 
sincerity. I will take these few following lines of Lycidas: — 

"Last came, and last did go, 
The pilot of the Galilean lake. 
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain, 
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain,) 
He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake, 
'How well could I have spared for thee, young swain, 
Enow of such as for their bellies' sake 
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold! 
Of other care they little reckoning make, 
Than how to scramble at the shearers' feast, 
And shove away the worthy bidden guest; 
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold 
A sheep-hook, or have learn' d aught else, the least 
That to the faithful herdman's art belongs! 
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped; 
And when they list, their lean and flashy songs 
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw; 
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed, 
But, swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw, 
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread; 
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw 
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.' " 

Let us think over this passage, and examine its words. 
First, is it not singular to find Milton assigning to St. 



OF KINGS' TREASURIES 299 

Peter, not only his full episcopal function, but the very 
types of it which Protestants usually refuse most passion- 
ately? His "mitred" locks! Milton was no Bishop-lover; how 
comes St. Peter to be "mitred"? "Two massy keys he bore." 
Is this, then, the power of the keys claimed by the Bishops 
of Rome? and is it acknowledged here by Milton only in a 
poetical licence, for the sake of its picturesqueness, that he 
may get the gleam of the golden keys to help his effect? 

Do not think it. Great men do not play stage tricks with 
the doctrines of life and death: only little men do that. 
Milton means what he says; and means it with his might 
too — is going to put the whole strength of his spirit pres- 
ently into the saying of it. For though not a lover of false 
bishops, he was a lover of true ones; and the Lake-pilot is 
here, in his thoughts, the type and head of true episcopal 
power. For Milton reads that text, "I will give unto thee 
the keys of the kingdom of heaven," quite honestly. Puritan 
though he be, he would not blot it out of the book because 
there have been bad bishops; nay, in order to understand 
him, we must understand that verse first; it will not do to 
eye it askance, or whisper it under our breath, as if it were 
a weapon of an adverse sect. It is a solemn, universal asser- 
tion, deeply to be kept in mind by all sects. But perhaps we 
shall be better able to reason on it if we go on a little 
farther, and come back to it. For clearly this marked in- 
sistence on the power of the true episcopate is to make us 
feel more weightily what is to be charged against the false 
claimants of episcopate; or generally, against false claimants 
of power and rank in the body of the clergy; they who, "for 
their bellies' sake, creep, and intrude, and climb into the 
fold." 

Never think Milton uses those three words to fill up his 
verse, as a loose writer would. He needs all the three; — 
especially those three, and no more than those — "creep," 
and "intrude," and "climb"; no other words would or could 
serve the turn, and no more could be added. For they ex- 
haustively comprehend the three classes, correspondent to 



300 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

astical power. First, those who "creep" into the fold; who do 
not care for office, nor name, but for secret influence, and do 
all things occultly and cunningly, consenting to any servility 
of office or conduct, so only that they may intimately dis- 
cern, and unawares direct, the minds of men. Then those 
who "intrude" (thrust, that is) themselves into the fold, 
who by natural insolence of heart, and stout eloquence of 
tongue, and fearlessly perseverant self-assertion, obtain hear- 
ing and authority with the common crowd. Lastly, those 
who "climb," who, by labour and learning, both stout and 
sound, but selfishly exerted in the cause of their own am- 
bition, gain high dignities and authorities, and become 
"lords over the heritage," though not "ensamples to the 
flock." 

Now go on: — 

"Of other care they little reckoning make, 
Than how to scramble at the shearers' feast, 
Blind mouths — " 

I pause again, for this is a strange expression; a broken 
metaphor, one might think, careless and unscholarly. 

Not so: its very audacity and pithiness are intended to 
make us look close at the phrase and remember it. Those 
two monosyllables express the precisely accurate contraries 
of right character, in the two great offices of the Church — 
those of bishop and pastor. 

A "Bishop" means "a person who sees." 

A "Pastor" means "a person who feeds." 

The most unbishoply character a man can have is there- 
fore to be Blind. 

The most unpastoral is, instead of feeding, to want to 
be fed, — to be a Mouth. 

Take the two reverses together, and you have "blind 
mouths." We may advisably follow out this idea a little. 
Nearly all the evils in the Church have arisen from bishops 
desiring power more than light. They want authority, not 
outlook. Whereas their real office is not to rule; though 



OF KINGS' TREASURIES 301 

it may be vigorously to exhort and rebuke: it is the king's 
office to rule; the bishop's office is to oversee the flock; to 
number it, sheep by sheep; to be ready always to give full 
account of it. Now it is clear he cannot give account of the 
souls, if he has not so much as numbered the bodies, of his 
flock. The first thing, therefore, that a bishop has to do is 
at least to put himself in a position in which, at any mo- 
ment, he can obtain the history, from childhood, of every 
living soul in his diocese, and of its present state. Down in 
that back street, Bill and Nancy, knocking each other's 
teeth out! — Does the bishop know all about it? Has he his 
eye upon them? Has he had his eye upon them? Can he 
circumstantially explain to us how Bill got into the habit 
of beating Nancy about the head? If he cannot, he is no 
bishop, though he had a mitre as high as Salisbury steeple; 
he is no bishop, — he has sought to be at the helm instead o£ 
the masthead; he has no sight of things. "Nay," you say, 
"it is not his duty to look after Bill in the back street." 
What! the fat sheep that have full fleeces — you think it is 
only those he should look after while (go back to your 
Milton) "the hungry sheep look up, and are not fed, besides 
what the grim wolf, with privy paw" (bishops knowing 
nothing about it), "daily devours apace, and nothing said"? 

"But that's not our idea of a bishop." Perhaps not; but 
it was St. Paul's; and it was Milton's. They may be right, 
or we may be; but we must not think we are reading either 
one or the other by putting our meaning into their words. 

I go on. 

"But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw." 

This is to meet the vulgar answer that "if the poor are 
not looked after in their bodies, they are in their souls; 
they have spiritual food." 

And Milton says, "They have no such thing as spiritual 
food; they are only swollen with wind." At first you may 
think that is a coarse type, and an obscure one. But again, 
it is a quite literally accurate one. Take up your Latin and 



302 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Greek dictionaries, and find out the meaning of "Spirit." 
It is only a contraction of the Latin word "breath," and 
an indistinct translation of the Greek word for "wind." 
The same word is used in writing, "The wind bloweth 
where it listeth"; and in writing, "So is every one that is 
born of the Spirit"; born of the breath, that is; for it means 
the breath of God, in soul and body. We have the true sense 
of it in our words "inspiration" and "expire." Now, there 
are two kinds of breath with which the flock may be filled, 
— God's breath, and man's. The breath of God is health, 
and life, and peace to them, as the air of heaven is to the 
flocks on the hills; but man's breath — the word which he 
calls spiritual — is disease and contagion to them, as the fog 
of the fen. They rot inwardly with it; they are puffed up by 
it, as a dead body by the vapours of its own decomposition. 
This is literally true of all false religious teaching; the first 
and last, and fatalest sign of it, is that "puffing up." Your 
converted children, who teach their parents; your converted 
convicts, who teach honest men; your converted dunces, 
who, having lived in cretinous stupefaction half their lives, 
suddenly awaking to the fact of there being a God, fancy 
themselves therefore His peculiar people and messengers; 
your sectarians of every species, small and great, Catholic or 
Protestant, of high church or low, in so far as they think 
themselves exclusively in the right and others wrong; and, 
pre-eminently, in every sect, those who hold that men can 
be saved by thinking rightly instead of doing rightly, by 
word instead of act, and wish instead of work; — these are 
the true fog children — clouds, these, without water; bodies, 
these, of putrescent vapour and skin, without blood or flesh: 
blown bagpipes for the fiends to pipe with — corrupt, and 
corrupting, — "Swollen with wind, and the rank mist they 
draw." 

Lastly, let us return to the lines respecting the power of 
the keys, for now we can understand them. Note the differ- 
ence between Milton and Dante in their interpretation of 
this power: for once, the latter is weaker in thought; he 



OF KINGS' TREASURIES 303 

supposes both the keys to be of the gate of heaven; one is 
of gold, the other of silver: they are given by St. Peter to 
the sentinel angel; and it is not easy to determine the mean- 
ing either of the substances of the three steps of the gate, 
or of the two keys. But Milton makes one, of gold, the key 
of heaven; the other, of iron, the key of the prison in which 
the wicked teachers are to be bound who "have taken away 
the key of knowledge, yet entered not in themselves." 

We have seen that the duties of bishop and pastor are to 
see, and feed; and of all who do so it is said, "He that 
watereth, shall be watered also himself." But the reverse is 
truth also. He that watereth not, shall be withered himself; 
and he that seeth not, shall himself be shut out of sight — 
shut into the perpetual prison-house. And that prison opens 
here, as well as hereafter: he who is to be bound in heaven 
must first be bound on earth. That command to the strong 
angels, of which the rock-apostle is the image, "Take him, 
and bind him hand and foot, and cast him out," issues, in 
its measure, against the teacher, for every help withheld, 
and for every truth refused, and for every falsehood en- 
forced; so that he is more strictly fettered the more he 
fetters, and farther outcast as he more and more misleads, 
till at last the bars of the iron cage close upon him, and as 
"the golden opes, the iron shuts amain." 

We have got something out of the lines, I think, and 
much more is yet to be found in them; but we have done 
enough by way of example of the kind of word-by-word 
examination of your author which is rightly called "read- 
ing"; watching every accent and expression, and putting 
ourselves always in the author's place, annihilating our own 
personality, and seeking to enter into his, so as to be able 
assuredly to say, "Thus Milton thought," not "Thus / 
thought, in mis-reading Milton." . . . 

Having then faithfully listened to the great teachers, 
that you may enter into their Thoughts, you have yet this 
higher advance to make; — you have to enter into their 
Hearts. As you go to them first for clear sight, so you must 



304 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

stay with them, that you may share at last their just and 
mighty Passion. Passion, or "sensation." I am not afraid of 
the word; still less of the thing. You have heard many out- 
cries against sensation lately; but, I can tell you, it is not less 
sensation we want, but more. The ennobling difference be- 
tween one man and another, — between one animal and 
another, — is precisely in this, that one feels more than an- 
other. If we were sponges, perhaps sensation might not be 
easily got for us; if we were earthworms, liable at every 
instant to be cut in two by the spade, perhaps too much 
sensation might not be good for us. But being human 
creatures, it is good for us; nay, we are only human in so 
far as we are sensitive, and our honour is precisely in pro- 
portion to our passion. 

You know I said of that great and pure society of the 
Dead, that it would allow "no vain or vulgar person to 
enter there." What do you think I meant by a "vulgar" 
person? What do you yourselves mean by "vulgarity"? You 
will find it a fruitful subject of thought; but, briefly, the 
essence of all vulgarity lies in want of sensation. Simple and 
innocent vulgarity is merely an untrained and undeveloped 
bluntness of body and mind; but in true inbred vulgarity, 
there is a dreadful callousness, which, in extremity, be- 
comes capable of every sort of bestial habit and crime, 
without fear, without pleasure, without horror, and without 
pity. It is in the blunt hand and the dead heart, in the dis- 
eased habit, in the hardened conscience, that men become 
vulgar; they are for ever vulgar, precisely in proportion as 
they are incapable of sympathy, — of quick understanding, — 
of all that, in deep insistence on the common, but most 
accurate term, may be called the "tact" or "touch-faculty," 
of body and soul: that tact which the Mimosa has in trees, 
which the pure woman has above all creatures; fineness and 
fulness of sensation, beyond reason; — the guide and sancti- 
fier of reason itself. Reason can but determine what is true: 
— it is the God-given passion of humanity which alone can 
recognise what God has made good. 



OF KINGS' TREASURIES 305 

We come then to that great concourse of the Dead, not 
merely to know from them what is True, but chiefly to feel 
with them what is just. Now, to feel with them, we must 
be like them; and none of us can become that without 
pains. As the true knowledge is disciplined and tested 
knowledge, — not the first thought that comes, so the true 
passion is disciplined and tested passion, — not the first pas- 
sion that comes. The first that come are the vain, the false, 
the treacherous; if you yield to them they will lead you 
wildly and far, in vain pursuit. ... So the anxiety is ignoble, 
with which you linger over the course and catastrophe of an 
idle tale; but do you think the anxiety is less, or greater, 
with which you watch, or ought to watch, the dealings of 
fate and destiny with the life of an agonized nation? Alas! 
it is the narrowness, selfishness, minuteness, of your sensa- 
tion that you have to deplore in England at this day; — 
sensation which spends itself in bouquets and speeches: in 
revellings and junketings; in sham fights and gay puppet 
shows, while you can look on and see noble nations mur- 
dered, man by man, without an effort or a tear.* . . . 

No nation can last, which has made a mob of itself, how- 
ever generous at heart. It must discipline its passions, and 
direct them, or they will discipline it, one day, with scor- 
pion whips. Above all, a nation cannot last as a money- 
making mob: it cannot with impunity, — it cannot with 
existence, — go on despising literature, despising science, de- 
spising art, despising nature, despising compassion, and 
concentrating its soul on Pence. Do you think these are 
harsh or wild words? Have patience with me but a little 
longer. I will prove their truth to you, clause by clause. 

(I.) I say first we have despised literature. What do we, as 
a nation, care about books? How much do you think we 
spend altogether on our libraries, public or private, as com- 
pared with what we spend on our horses? If a man spends 
lavishly on his library, you call him mad — a bibliomaniac. 

* An allusion to Russia's brutal suppression of the Polish insurrection 
in 1864, a few months before Ruskin delivered this lecture. 



306 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

But you never call any one a horsemaniac, though men ruin 
themselves every day by their horses, and you do not hear 
of people ruining themselves by their books. Or, to go 
lower still, how much do you think the contents of the 
book-shelves of the United Kingdom, public and private, 
would fetch, as compared with the contents of its wine- 
cellars? What position would its expenditure on literature 
take, as compared with its expenditure on luxurious eating? 
We talk of food for the mind, as of food for the body: now 
a good book contains such food inexhaustibly; it is a pro- 
vision for life, and for the best part of us; yet how long 
most people would look at the best book before they would 
give the price of a large turbot for it? . . . The very cheap- 
ness of literature is making even wise people forget that if 
a book is worth reading, it is worth buying. No book is 
worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it service- 
able, until it has been read, and re-read, and loved, and 
loved again; and marked, so that you can refer to the pas- 
sages you want in it, as a soldier can seize the weapon he 
needs in an armoury, or a housewife bring the spice she 
needs from her store. Bread of flour is good; but there is 
bread, sweet as honey, if we would eat it, in a good book; 
and the family must be poor indeed, which, once in their 
lives, cannot, for such multipliable barley-loaves, pay their 
baker's bill. We call ourselves a rich nation, and we are 
filthy and foolish enough to thumb each other's books out 
of circulating libraries! 

(II.) I say we have despised science. "What!" you exclaim, 
"are we not foremost in all discovery, and is not the whole 
world giddy by reason, or unreason, of our inventions?" 
Yes; but do you suppose that is national work? That work 
is all done in spite of the nation; by private people's zeal 
and money. We are glad enough, indeed, to make our profit 
of science; we snap up anything in the way of a scientific 
bone that has meat on it, eagerly enough; but if the scien- 
tific man comes for a bone or a crust to us, that is another 
story. What have we publicly done for science? We are 



OF KINGS' TREASURIES 307 

obliged to know what o'clock it is, for the safety of our 
ships, and therefore we pay for an observatory; and we 
allow ourselves, in the person of our Parliament, to be an- 
nually tormented into doing something, in a slovenly way, 
for the British Museum; sullenly apprehending that to be a 
place for keeping stuffed birds in, to amuse our children. . . . 
(III.) I say you have despised Art! "What!" you again 
answer, "have we not Art exhibitions, miles long? and do 
we not pay thousands of pounds for single pictures? and 
have we not Art schools and institutions, more than ever 
nation had before?" Yes, truly, but all that is for the sake 
of the shop. You would fain sell canvas as well as coals, and 
crockery as well as iron; you would take every other nation's 
bread out of its mouth if you could; not being able to do 
that, your ideal of life is to stand in the thoroughfares of 
the world, like Ludgate apprentices, screaming to every 
passer-by, "What d'ye lack?" You know nothing of your 
own faculties or circumstances; you fancy that, among your 
damp, flat, fat fields of clay, you have as quick art-fancy 
as the Frenchman among his bronzed vines, or the Italian 
under his volcanic cliffs; — that Art may be learned, as 
bookkeeping is, and when learned, will give you more 
books to keep. You care for pictures, absolutely, no more 
than you do for the bills pasted on your dead walls. There is 
always room on the walls for the bills to be read, — never 
for the pictures to be seen. You do not know what pictures 
you have (by repute) in the country, nor whether they are 
false or true, nor whether they are taken care of or not; in 
foreign countries, you calmly see the noblest existing pic- 
tures in the world rotting in abandoned wreck — (in Venice 
you saw the Austrian guns deliberately pointed at the 
palaces containing them*), and if you heard that all the 
fine pictures in Europe were made into sand-bags to-morrow 

* During the bombardment and occupation of Venice, Ruskin wrote 
that "hardly a single palace escaped without three or four balls through 
its roof: three came into the Scuola di San Rocco, tearing their way 
through the pictures of Tintoret, of which the ragged fragments were 
still hanging from the ceiling in 1851." 



308 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

on the Austrian forts, it would not trouble you so much as 
the chance of a brace or two of game less in your own bags, 
in a day's shooting. That is your national love of Art. 

(IV.) You have despised Nature; that is to say, all the deep 
and sacred sensations of natural scenery. The French revo- 
lutionists made stables of the cathedrals of France; you 
have made race-courses of the cathedrals of the earth. Your 
one conception of pleasure is to drive in railroad carriages 
round their aisles, and eat off their altars. You have put a 
railroad-bridge over the falls of Schaffhausen. You have 
tunnelled the cliffs of Lucerne by Tell's chapel; you have 
destroyed the Clarens shore of the Lake of Geneva; there is 
not a quiet valley in England that you have not filled with 
bellowing fire; there is not a particle left of English land 
which you have not trampled coal ashes into — nor any 
foreign city in which the spread of your presence is not 
marked among its fair old streets and happy gardens by a 
consuming white leprosy of new hotels and perfumers' 
shops: the Alps themselves, which your own poets used to 
love so reverently, you look upon as soaped poles in a bear- 
garden, which you set yourselves to climb and slide down 
again, with "shrieks of delight." When you are past shriek- 
ing, having no human articulate voice to say you are glad 
with, you fill the quietude of their valleys with gunpowder 
blasts, and rush home, red with cutaneous eruption of con- 
ceit, and voluble with convulsive hiccough of self-satisfac- 
tion. I think nearly the two sorrowfullest spectacles I have 
ever seen in humanity, taking the deep inner significance of 
them, are the English mobs in the valley of Chamouni, 
amusing themselves with firing rusty howitzers; and the 
Swiss vintagers of Zurich expressing their Christian thanks 
for the gift of the vine, by assembling in knots in the 
"towers of the vineyards," and slowly loading and firing 
horse-pistols from morning till evening. It is pitiful, to have 
dim conceptions of duty; more pitiful, it seems to me, to 
have conceptions like these, of mirth. 

Lastly. You despise compassion. There is no need of 



OF KINGS' TREASURIES 309 

words of mine for proof of this. I will merely print one of 
the newspaper paragraphs which I am in the habit of cut- 
ting out and throwing into my store-drawer; here is one 
from a Daily Telegraph of an early date this year (1867*); 
(date which, though by me carelessly left unmarked, is easily 
discoverable; for on the back of the slip there is the an- 
nouncement that "yesterday the seventh of the special serv- 
ices of this year was performed by the Bishop of Ripon in 
St. Paul's";) it relates only one of such facts as happen now 
daily; this by chance having taken a form in which it came 
before the coroner. I will print the paragraph in red. Be 
sure, the facts themselves are written in that colour, in a 
book which we shall all of us, literate or illiterate, have to 
read our page of, some day. 

An inquiry was held on Friday by Mr. Richards, deputy 
coroner, at the White Horse Tavern, Christ Church, Spital- 
fields, respecting the death of Michael Collins, aged 58 years. 
Mary Collins, a miserable-looking woman, said that she 
lived with the deceased and his son in a room at 2, Cobb's 
Court, Christ Church. Deceased was a "translator" of boots. 
Witness went out and bought old boots; deceased and his 
son made them into good ones, and then witness sold them 
for what she could get at the shops, which was very little 
indeed. Deceased and his son used to work night and day 
to try and get a little bread and tea, and pay for the room 
(2s. a week), so as to keep the home together. On Friday- 
night-week deceased got up from his bench and began to 
shiver. He threw down the boots, saying, "Somebody else 
must finish them when I am gone for I can do no more." 
There was no fire, and he said, "I would be better if I was 
warm." Witness therefore took two pairs of translated boots 
to sell at the shop, but she could only get 14d. for the two 
pairs, for the people at the shop said, "We must have our 
profit." Witness got 14 lb. of coal, and a little tea and bread. 

* An error for the Morning Post of February 13, 1865. Apparently 
Ruskin added the quotation after giving the lecture in its original 
form in December, 1864. 



310 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Her son sat up the whole night to make the "translations" 
to get money, but deceased died on Saturday morning. The 
family never had enough to eat. — Coroner: "It seems to me 
deplorable that you did not go into the workhouse." Wit- 
ness: "We wanted the comforts of our little home" A juror 
asked what the comforts were, for he only saw a little straw 
in the corner of the room, the windows of which were 
broken. The witness began to cry, and said that they had a 
quilt and other little things. The deceased said he never 
would go into the workhouse. In summer, when the season 
was good, they sometimes made as much as 10s. profit in the 
week. They then always saved towards the next week, which 
was generally a bad one. In winter they made not half so 
much. For three years they had been getting from bad to 
worse. — Cornelius Collins said that he had assisted his father 
since 1847. They used to work so far into the night that 
both nearly lost their eyesight. Witness now had a film over 
his eyes. Five years ago deceased applied to the parish for 
aid. The relieving officer gave him a 4 lb. loaf, and told 
him if he came again he should "get the stones." That dis- 
gusted deceased, and he would have nothing to do with 
them since. They got worse and worse until last Friday 
week, when they had not even a halfpenny to buy a candle. 
Deceased then lay down on the straw, and said he could 
not live till morning. — A juror: "You are dying of starva- 
tion yourself, and you ought to go into the house until the 
summer." — Witness: "If we went in we should die. When 
we come out in the summer we should be like people 
dropped from the sky. No one would know us, and we 
would not have even a room. I could work now if I had 
food, for my sight would get better." Dr. G. P. Walker said 
deceased died from syncope, from exhaustion from want of 
food. The deceased had had no bedclothes. For four months 
he had had nothing but bread to eat. There was not a 
particle of fat in the body. There was no disease, but, if 
there had been medical attendance, he might have survived 
the syncope or fainting. The Coroner having remarked 



OF KINGS' TREASURIES 311 

upon the painful nature of the case, the jury returned the 
following verdict: "That deceased died from exhaustion 
from want of food and the common necessaries of life; also 
through want of medical aid." 

"Why would witness not go into the workhouse?" you 
ask. Well, the poor seem to have a prejudice against the 
workhouse which the rich have not; for of course everyone 
who takes a pension from Government goes into the work- 
house on a grand scale: only the workhouses for the rich do 
not involve the idea of work, and should be called play- 
houses. But the poor like to die independently, it appears; 
perhaps if we made the play-houses for them pretty and 
pleasant enough, or gave them their pensions at home, and 
allowed them a little introductory peculation with the 
public money, their minds might be reconciled to the con- 
ditions. Meantime, here are the facts: we make our relief 
either so insulting to them, or so painful, that they rather 
die than take it at our hands; or, for third alternative, we 
leave them so untaught and foolish that they starve like 
brute creatures, wild and dumb, not knowing what to do, 
or what to ask. I say, you despise compassion; if you did 
not, such a newspaper paragraph would be as impossible in 
a Christian country as a deliberate assassination permitted 
in its public streets. "Christian," did I say? Alas! if we were 
but wholesomely wn-Christian, it would be impossible: it is 
our imaginary Christianity that helps us to commit these 
crimes, for we revel and luxuriate in our faith, for the lewd 
sensation of it; dressing it up, like everything else, in fiction. 
The dramatic Christianity of the organ and aisle, of dawn- 
service and twilight-revival — the Christianity, which we do 
not fear to mix the mockery of, pictorially, with our play 
about the devil, in our Satanellas, — Roberts, — Fausts;* 
chanting hymns through traceried windows for background 
effect, and artistically modulating the "Dio" through varia- 

* Balfe's Satanella: or the Power of Love, an opera produced in Lon- 
don in 1858; Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable; and, of course, Gounod's 
Faust. 



S12 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

tion on variation of mimicked prayer: (while we distribute 
tracts, next day, for the benefit of uncultivated swearers, 
upon what we suppose to be the signification of the Third 
Commandment; — this gas-lighted, and gas-inspired Chris- 
tianity, we are triumphant in, and draw back the hem of our 
robes from the touch of the heretics who dispute it. But to 
do a piece of common Christian righteousness in a plain 
English word or deed; to make Christian law any rule of life, 
and found one National act or hope thereon, — we know too 
well what our faith comes to for that! You might sooner get 
lightning out of incense smoke than true action or passion 
out of your modern English religion. You had better get rid 
of the smoke, and the organ pipes, both: leave them, and 
the Gothic windows, and the painted glass, to the property 
man; give up your carburetted hydrogen ghost in one 
healthy expiration, and look after Lazarus at the doorstep. 
For there is a true Church wherever one hand meets another 
helpfully, and that is the only holy or Mother Church which 
ever was, or ever shall be. 

All these pleasures then, and all these virtues, I repeat, 
you nationally despise. . . . Our National wish and purpose 
are only to be amused; our National religion is the per- 
formance of church ceremonies, and preaching of soporific 
truths (or untruths) to keep the mob quietly at work, while 
we amuse ourselves; and the necessity for this amusement 
is fastening on us, as a feverous disease of parched throat 
and wandering eyes — senseless, dissolute, merciless. How 
literally that word Dw-Ease, the Negation and impossibility 
of Ease, expresses the entire moral state of our English 
Industry and its Amusements! 

When men are rightly occupied, their amusement grows 
out of their work, as the colour-petals out of a fruitful 
flower; — when they are faithfully helpful and compassion- 
ate, all their emotions become steady, deep, perpetual, and 
vivifying to the soul as the natural pulse to the body. But 
now, having no true business, we pour our whole masculine 
energy into the false business of money-making; and having 



OF KINGS' TREASURIES 313 

no true emotion, we must have false emotions dressed up for 
us to play with, not innocently, as children with dolls, but 
guiltily and darkly, as the idolatrous Jews with their pic- 
tures on cavern walls, which men had to dig to detect. The 
justice we do not execute, we mimic in the novel and on 
the stage; for the beauty we destroy in nature, we substitute 
the metamorphosis of the pantomime, and (the human 
nature of us imperatively requiring awe and sorrow of some 
kind) for the noble grief we should have borne with our 
fellows, and the pure tears we should have wept with them, 
we gloat over the pathos of the police court, and gather the 
night-dew of the grave. 

It is difficult to estimate the true significance of these 
things; the facts are frightful enough; — the measure of 
national fault involved in them is perhaps not as great as 
it would at first seem. We permit, or cause, thousands of 
deaths daily, but we mean no harm; we set fire to houses, 
and ravage peasants' fields, yet we should be sorry to find 
we had injured anybody. We are still kind at heart; still 
capable of virtue, but only as children are. Chalmers,* at 
the end of his long life, having had much power with the 
public, being plagued in some serious matter by a reference 
to "public opinion," uttered the impatient exclamation, 
"The public is just a great baby!" And the reason that I 
have allowed all these graver subjects of thought to mix 
themselves up with an inquiry into methods of reading, 
is that, the more I see of our national faults or miseries, 
the more they resolve themselves into conditions of childish 
illiterateness and want of education in the most ordinary 
habits of thought. It is, I repeat, not vice, not selfishness, 
not dullness of brain, which we have to lament; but an un- 
reachable schoolboy's recklessness, only differing from the 
true schoolboy's in its incapacity of being helped, because 
it acknowledges no master. 

There is a curious type of us given in one of the lovely, 
neglected works of the last of our great painters. It is a 
* Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), Scottish theologian and preacher. 



314 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

drawing of Kirkby Lonsdale churchyard, and of its brook, 
and valley, and hills, and folded morning sky beyond. And 
unmindful alike of these, and of the dead who have left 
these for other valleys and for other skies, a group of school- 
boys have piled their little books upon a grave, to strike 
them off with stones. So, also, we play with the words of 
the dead that would teach us, and strike them far from 
us with our bitter, reckless will; little thinking that those 
leaves which the wind scatters had been piled, not only 
upon a gravestone, but upon the seal of an enchanted 
vault — nay, the gate of a great city of sleeping kings, who 
would awake for us and walk with us, if we knew but how 
to call them by their names. How often, even if we lift the 
marble entrance gate, do we but wander among those old 
kings in their repose, and finger the robes they lie in, and 
stir the crowns on their foreheads; and still they are silent 
to us, and seem but a dusty imagery, because we know not 
the incantation of the heart that would wake them; — which, 
if they once heard, they would start up to meet us in their 
power of long ago, narrowly to look upon us, and consider 
us; and, as the fallen kings of Hades meet the newly fallen, 
saying, "Art thou also become weak as we — art thou also 
become one of us?"* so would these kings, with their un- 
dimmed, unshaken diadems, meet us, saying, "Art thou also 
become pure and mighty of heart as we — art thou also be- 
come one of us?" 



Isaiah 14:10. 



Solitude 



In Jacob's deathbed prophecy to his son Reuben — "Un- 
stable as water, thou shalt not excel" — Ruskin saw a judg- 
ment upon his own work. His reader, too, cannot fail to 
note the growing instability of temper which marks Ruskin's 
writing after the publication of Unto This Last in 1860. 
The agonies and obsessions of his personal life increasingly 
obtrude into his books, at once robbing them of coherence 
and enriching them with a strangely moving poignance. 

The most important of these intrusions was Ruskin's love 
for Rose La Touche, whom he met in 1858. She was then a 
brilliant child thirty years his junior. As his fondness for 
Rose developed into an overmastering passion, she became 
more and more withdrawn, until her extreme sensitivity 
first lapsed into morbid religious fervor, then into insanity 
and early death. When she was eighteen, she responded to 
Ruskin's urgent, abject entreaties of marriage by sending 
him Biblical texts and bidding him renounce his "heathen- 
ism" and "sins against God." Ruskin's frequent invectives 
against evangelical piety in his writings of the 1860s (see 
the penultimate paragraph of "The Mystery of Life and 
Its Arts") are veiled pleas that Rose understand his un- 
orthodox religious position and abandon the sick excesses 
of her own. 

Ruskin had always been drawn to the innocence and 
sexually unchallenging beauty of girlhood. As Rose grew 
into maturity, more and more alienated from Ruskin and 



316 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

from reality, she became fixed in his mind as the un- 
troubled child who had once gathered flowers in his garden 
at Heme Hill, the ageless little girl whom we meet in the 
closing pages of Prceterita. She also appears in Letter 20 
("Benediction") of Fors Clavigera, in the guise of the young 
St. Ursula. The sleeping saint in Carpaccio's Dream of St. 
Ursula lies in deathlike stillness, her slender body covered 
with a sheet which rises and falls "in a narrow unbroken 
wave, like the shape of the coverlid of the last sleep, when 
the turf scarcely rises." Ruskin's recurrent descriptions of 
the painting form a part of his larger obsession with Rose. 
He was learning to create out of the wreck of his personal 
life the central but hidden subject of his books. 

During the fertile but febrile years preceding his mental 
collapse in 1878, Ruskin wrote about political economy and 
the motion of snakes, botany and Florentine engraving, 
Greek myths and criminal law, the stratification of the Alps 
and the education of little girls. Physically as well as in- 
tellectually he spent these years in transit, shifting from 
subject to subject as rapidly as he hastened from place to 
place, seeking an anchorage he could not find and fleeing 
a chaos he was powerless to avoid. 

The resilience of Ruskin's mind, however, was as re- 
markable as its hectic imbalance. Although his social criti- 
cism in Time and Tide (1867) is continually warped by 
anxious autobiographical digressions, only a year later he 
wrote the most exquisitely controlled of all his lectures, 
"The Mystery of Life and Its Arts." Stylistically, this elegy 
to his abandoned hopes is a tour de force. Ruskin intro- 
duces into modern English the rich resonances of Donne 
and Browne, the majestic sonorities of the King James 
Bible. The haunting solemnity of his cadences has the effect 
of implicating the cosmos itself in his grief. A verse from 
the Bible serves as his leitmotiv: "What is your life? It is 
even as a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then 
vanisheth away." In Modern Painters Ruskin had written 
of the cloud as a luminous veil lightly interposed between 






SOLITUDE 317 

the face of nature and the face of God. Here the fleeting 
yet impenetrable cloud symbolizes his own darkened spirit, 
his sense of the thick, unfathomable mystery of life, the 
evanescence of its arts, the futility of its labors. The lecture 
is a beautifully sane, beautifully structured statement of 
despair. 

Ruskin closed his work of the 1860s with The Queen of 
the Air, a re-creation of the Greek sense of the gods and 
their ruling presence throughout nature. The subtitle — "A 
Study of the Greek Myths of Cloud and Storm" — is mis- 
leading, for the book is less a study of certain myths than a 
hymn to Athena, an incantation of astonishing yet elusive 
power. Ruskin employs a prose not of statement but of 
prayer, which at its best achieves the condition of music 
and should be so read, precisely as one reads Eliot's Four 
Quartets. Of course a study of myths ought not to attempt 
the effects of music or poetry, but Ruskin does not so much 
trace their origins or meanings as reanimate, through a 
miracle of style, the god-haunted groves of Greece in which 
the myths were born. 

But The Queen of the Air cannot be wholly trusted or 
understood. In the chaotic final chapter Ruskin seems to 
have entered a "world of unreason and illusion, and [to 
wander] there without a compass and a guide — or any light 
save the fitful flashes of his beautiful genius." Such was the 
impression Henry James formed on meeting Ruskin in 
1869. James accurately gauged the extent of Ruskin's "un- 
reason" but underestimated his vitality, his almost infinite 
resourcefulness in shaping great art out of great illness. In 
the next twenty years Ruskin was to create two perfect 
expressions of his genius, Fors Clavigera and Prceterita, the 
one a chronicle of his torment and the other, composed in 
lucid intervals between attacks of madness, the richest in 
peace of all that he wrote. 

Weary and obviously ill, Ruskin went to Italy immedi- 
ately after completing The Queen of the Air. While at 
Lugano he learned of his appointment to the newly en- 



318 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

dowed Slade Professorship of Fine Art. He returned to Eng- 
land, where his new duties at Oxford imposed a direction 
on the dangerous wanderings of his thought. The early 
Slade lectures are orderly, temperate, almost courtly in their 
grace of statement. But the lectures are works of consolida- 
tion rather than of discovery. The aim of the professorship 
as Ruskin conceived it was to convince his students, many 
of whom were born to privilege and destined to positions of 
patronage and power, that the beauty which is truly to be 
a joy forever must be a joy for all. 

Ruskin's most enduring achievement in the 1870s was 
not his lectures on art but a collection of letters to the work- 
men of Great Britain which he began "as a byework to quiet 
my conscience, that I might be happy in . . . my own proper 
life of Art-teaching, at Oxford and elsewhere." The letters 
comprising Fors Clavigera were published monthly from 
1871 until Ruskin's breakdown in 1878; thereafter pub- 
lication was intermittent, the series ending with the Christ- 
mas letter of 1884. The dates are revealing, for they confirm 
the fact that Fors was written in part as a guilty reaction 
to Ruskin's work as Professor of Fine Art. Within a year of 
his inaugural lecture, he published the first issue of Fors; 
the last appeared on the eve of his final resignation from 
Oxford. Only then did he feel free to indulge in the pleas- 
ing labor of Prceterita. 

Fors is first and most simply an anatomy of the folly, 
ugliness, and brutality of the age. Its 600,000 words record 
Ruskin's lonely pilgrimage through Europe and his cry of 
nausee at the horror of the earthly city. Fors is also the diary 
of a nobly gifted mind, disturbed but not deceived by its 
sickness. There are letters which, in the magnitude of their 
isolation, open out on a terrifying night of the soul. As 
Cardinal Manning phrased it, reading them is like listening 
to the beating of one's heart in a nightmare. 

The image is perfect, for it conveys not only the peculiar 
loneliness of Fors but its frightening immediacy. Ruskin is 
closer to his reader in Fors, yet more alienated from the 



SOLITUDE 319 

world he describes, than in any other of his books. As his 
hold on reality became more tenuous, his style became more 
intimate, until on the pages of Fors one seems to touch the 
lineaments of thought itself without the intervening me- 
dium of words. 

Certain letters lead nowhere, but capture with a fixed 
intensity some isolated moment of feeling. Fors was written 
as much to arrest these moments, to transmit them whole 
from Ruskin's to the reader's mind, as to propound a scheme 
of social reform. Early in the letters Ruskin abandoned his 
customary salutation — "My friends" — and ceased to sign 
his name at their close. His anonymity was the sign of his 
own estrangement; yet he could no more cease writing the 
letters than refrain from noting in his diary the blank or 
hostile faces which passed him in the streets. Fors was his 
final link with a communicable world before "the solitude 
at last became too great to be endured." 

Ruskin's dread of that fearful solitude is the subject of 
the great Christmas letter of 1874. The tone ranges from 
the quiet irony which Ruskin directs against himself at its 
opening to a raging denunciation of the cannibalistic world, 
"mad for money and lust, tearing each other to pieces, and 
starving each other to death." The relief Ruskin derived 
from violent language he also found in the wild inconse- 
quence of wit. He affected the very madness he feared, as- 
suming an antic disposition in order to say in jest what no 
man could say in earnest and still be thought sane. "If I 
took off the Harlequin's mask for a moment," he wrote, 
"you would say I was simply mad." Ruskin's stratagem is 
Hamlet's stratagem, born of the same fear and cloaking the 
same inner bafflement. Indeed, the mind which animates 
Fors is as swift and subtle as Hamlet's, yet as tempestuous 
as Lear's and as wayward as the Fool's. 

One mark of Ruskin's folly throughout Fors is his reckless 
and absolute candor. Remarkably personal, the letters ex- 
press the idiosyncrasies and convictions of a man who is sim- 
ply and guilelessly the center of his universe. Yet they are 



320 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

wholly devoid of posturing or illusion. Perhaps because we 
habitually associate the objective with the impersonal, we 
cannot comprehend a mind which is at once so passionately 
disinterested, yet so passionately itself. 

Using Fors as his forum, Ruskin hoped to transform the 
industrial wasteland of England into a fruitful garden open 
to all. For this purpose he gave much of his time and for- 
tune to found the Guild of St. George, the affairs of which 
form a recurrent theme loosely connecting the letters. He 
succeeded in recruiting some fifty "Companions of St. 
George," many of whom lived on the Guild's lands and 
subscribed to its principles of "dressing the earth and keep- 
ing it, feeding human lips, clothing human bodies, kindling 
human souls." Although the Guild still survives as a cor- 
porate body, it achieved far less than Ruskin had desired 
and is dwarfed in significance by the letters which brought 
it into being. 

In the 1880s Ruskin progressively withdrew from his role 
as Master of the Guild. Despite recurrent periods of in- 
sanity, he continued to write on a widening number of 
subjects. In 1880-81 he published Fiction, Fair and Foul, 
a series of essays on contemporary literature. The first essay 
is one of his most brilliant excursions into literary criticism. 
He defines a new genre, the novel of the city, the morbid 
violence of which he traces to a kind of death-wish engen- 
dered by the tedium, depersonalization, and anxious root- 
lessness of modern urban culture. 

In 1884 Ruskin gave his last Slade lecture and published 
the final issue of Fors. He had brought the ragged ends of 
his career as art and social critic to a close and was free 
to write his autobiography. The shift in tone from the 
tempestuousness of Fors to the placidity of Prceterita is as- 
tonishing. There are no outbursts of rage, no traces of his 
obsession with the ominous storm cloud which mar almost 
all that he wrote during his professorship. The key to this 
change is The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century, 
which served as a catharsis enabling him to return in 



SOLITUDE 321 

Prceterita to the clear skies and crystal streams of his child- 
hood. 

In part the lecture on The Storm-Cloud (1884) represents 
a "pathetic fallacy," a confusion of Ruskin's altered re- 
sponse to nature with an imagined decline in nature herself. 
He describes the storm cloud as vile and diabolic, seemingly 
"made of dead men's souls" and accompanied by a plague 
wind whose "sound is a hiss instead of a wail." The lurid 
skies of The Storm-Cloud are the obverse of the luminous 
heavens of Modern Painters, opposing faces of a single 
power to which Ruskin, throughout his life, was incapable 
of indifference. After 1870, however, he came to believe that 
the elements were locked in a cosmic combat of good and 
evil. As "the black Devil cloud" gained mastery, he felt that 
nature had betrayed him and that man, in a kind of vicious 
collusion, had polluted the earth and air. This is the burden 
of the apocalyptic close of The Storm-Cloud, with its alarm- 
ing prophecy of "blanched Sun, — blighted grass, — blinded 
man" and of an earth made desolate and uninhabitable. 

The evocativeness of Ruskin's prose in The Storm-Cloud 
has obscured the accuracy of his observations. He had in- 
deed observed a new kind of cloud which looked "as if it 
were made of poisonous smoke" and which, if not sent by 
Satan, was sufficiently lethal on one occasion to raise the 
weekly death rate in London by 40 percent. The cloud 
originated not in the heavens but in the chimneys of in- 
dustrialized England. The height of Ruskin's weather ob- 
session also coincided, in England at least, with a period of 
abnormally high rainfall, extreme cold, and diminished 
sunshine. The data he cites in The Storm-Cloud were based 
on fanatically precise but morbidly heightened responses 
to atmospheric conditions. Indeed, if one were to plot a 
graph of his mental state, the curve would almost exactly 
parallel the weather of the moment. The same hyperesthesia 
which painfully magnified Ruskin's responses to light and 
sound now turned the skies of England into "a raging 
enemy." 



322 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Ruskin was not alone in portraying a decline in nature 

from benevolence to evil. Modern Painters and The Storm- 

Cloud recapitulate, at both ends of his career, one of the 

crucial realizations of his century: that the benign Nature 

of Wordsworth was in fact red in tooth and claw. With that 

discovery, the pastoral landscapes of the Romantic poets 

gave way to the sinister, blighted terrain of Tennyson's "The 

Holy Grail," of Browning's "Childe Roland," and of their 

prose counterparts, Hardy's blasted heaths and Ruskin's 

Storm-Cloud. 

—J. D. K. 



SESAME AND LILIES 



The Mystery of Life and Its Arts* 

When I accepted the privilege of addressing you today, I 
was not aware of a restriction with respect to the topics of 
discussion which may be brought before this Societyf — a 
restriction which, though entirely wise and right under the 
circumstances contemplated in its introduction, would nec- 
essarily have disabled me, thinking as I think, from pre- 
paring any lecture for you on the subject of art in a form 
which might be permanently useful. Pardon me, therefore, 
in so far as I must transgress such limitation; for indeed my 
infringement will be of the letter — not of the spirit — of your 
commands. In whatever I may say touching the religion 
which has been the foundation of art, or the policy which 
has contributed to its power, if I offend one, I shall offend 
all; for I shall take no note of any separations in creeds, or 
antagonisms in parties: neither do I fear that ultimately I 
shall offend any, by proving — or at least stating as capable 
of positive proof — the connection of all that is best in the 
crafts and arts of man, with the simplicity of his faith, and 
the sincerity of his patriotism. 

But I speak to you under another disadvantage, by which 
I am checked in frankness of utterance, not here only, but 
everywhere: namely, that I am never fully aware how far 
my audiences are disposed to give me credit for real knowl- 

* Delivered in the Exhibition Palace, Dublin, May 13, 1868. 

f That no reference should be made to religious questions. [Ruskin's 

note.] 



324 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

edge of my subject, or how far they grant me attention only 
because I have been sometimes thought an ingenious or 
pleasant essayist upon it. For I have had what, in many 
respects, I boldly call the misfortune, to set my words 
sometimes prettily together; not without a foolish vanity in 
the poor knack that I had of doing so: until I was heavily 
punished for this pride, by finding that many people 
thought of the words only, and cared nothing for their 
meaning. Happily, therefore, the power of using such pleas- 
ant language — if indeed it ever were mine — is passing away 
from me; and whatever I am now able to say at all, I find 
myself forced to say with great plainness. For my thoughts 
have changed also, as my words have; and whereas in earlier 
life, what little influence I obtained was due perhaps 
chiefly to the enthusiasm with which I was able to dwell on 
the beauty of the physical clouds, and of their colours in 
the sky; so all the influence I now desire to retain must be 
due to the earnestness with which I am endeavouring to 
trace the form and beauty of another kind of cloud than 
those; the bright cloud of which it is written — "What is 
your life? It is even as a vapour that appeareth for a little 
time, and then vanisheth away."* 

I suppose few people reach the middle or latter period of 
their age, without having, at some moment of change or 
disappointment, felt the truth of those bitter words; and 
been startled by the fading of the sunshine from the cloud 
of their life into the sudden agony of the knowledge that 
the fabric of it was as fragile as a dream, and the endurance 
of it as transient as the dew. But it is not always that, even 
at such times of melancholy surprise, we can enter into any 
true perception that this human life shares in the nature of 
it, not only the evanescence, but the mystery of the cloud; 
that its avenues are wreathed in darkness, and its forms and 
courses no less fantastic, than spectral and obscure; so that 
not only in the vanity which we cannot grasp, but in the 
* James 4:14. 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 325 

shadow which we cannot pierce, it is true of this cloudy life 
of ours, that "man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquiet- 
eth himself in vain." 

And least of all, whatever may have been the eagerness of 
our passions, or the height of our pride, are we able to 
understand in its depth the third and most solemn character 
in which our life is like those clouds of heaven; that to it 
belongs not only their transience, not only their mystery, 
but also their power; that in the cloud of the human soul 
there is a fire stronger than the lightning, and a grace more 
precious than the rain; and that though of the good and 
evil it shall one day be said alike, that the place that knew 
them knows them no more, there is an infinite separation 
between those whose brief presence had there been a bless- 
ing, like the mist of Eden that went up from the earth to 
water the garden, and those whose place knew them only as 
a drifting and changeful shade, of whom the heavenly sen- 
tence is, that they are "wells without water; clouds that are 
carried with a tempest, to whom the mist of darkness is re- 
served for ever." 

To those among us, however, who have lived long enough 
to form some just estimate of the rate of the changes which 
are, hour by hour in accelerating catastrophe, manifesting 
themselves in the laws, the arts, and the creeds of men, it 
seems to me, that now at least, if never at any former time, 
the thoughts of the true nature of our life, and of its powers 
and responsibilities, should present themselves with absolute 
sadness and sternness. And although I know that this feel- 
ing is much deepened in my own mind by disappointment, 
which, by chance, has attended the greater number of my 
cherished purposes, I do not for that reason distrust the 
feeling itself, though I am on my guard against an exag- 
gerated degree of it: nay, I rather believe that in periods of 
new effort and violent change, disappointment is a whole- 
some medicine; and that in the secret of it, as in the twilight 
so beloved by Titian, we may see the colours of things with 



326 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

deeper truth than in the most dazzling sunshine. And be- 
cause these truths about the works of men, which I want to 
bring to-day before you, are most of them sad ones, though 
at the same time helpful; and because also I believe that 
your kind Irish hearts will answer more gladly to the truth- 
ful expression of a personal feeling, than to the exposition 
of an abstract principle, I will permit myself so much unre- 
served speaking of my own causes of regret, as may enable 
you to make just allowance for what, according to your sym- 
pathies, you will call either the bitterness, or the insight, 
of a mind which has surrendered its best hopes, and been 
foiled in its favourite aims. 

I spent the ten strongest years of my life, (from twenty to 
thirty,) in endeavouring to show the excellence of the work 
of the man whom I believed, and rightly believed, to be the 
greatest painter of the schools of England since Reynolds. 
I had then perfect faith in the power of every great truth of 
beauty to prevail ultimately, and take its right place in use- 
fulness and honour; and I strove to bring the painter's work 
into this due place, while the painter was yet alive. But he 
knew, better than I, the uselessness of talking about what 
people could not see for themselves. He always discouraged 
me scornfully, even when he thanked me — and he died be- 
fore even the superficial effect of my work was visible. I went 
on, however, thinking I could at least be of use to the pub- 
lic, if not to him, in proving his power. My books got talked 
about a little. The prices of modern pictures, generally, 
rose, and I was beginning to take some pleasure in a sense 
of gradual victory, when, fortunately or unfortunately, an 
opportunity of perfect trial undeceived me at once, and for 
ever. The Trustees of the National Gallery commissioned 
me to arrange the Turner drawings there, and permitted me 
to prepare three hundred examples of his studies from na- 
ture, for exhibition at Kensington. At Kensington they 
were, and are, placed for exhibition; but they are not ex- 
hibited, for the room in which they hang is always empty. 

Well — this showed me at once, that those ten years of my 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 327 

life had been, in their chief purpose, lost. For that, I did 
not so much care; I had, at least, learned my own business 
thoroughly, and should be able, as I fondly supposed, after 
such a lesson, now to use my knowledge, with better effect. 
But what I did care for was the — to me frightful — discovery, 
that the most splendid genius in the arts might be permitted 
by Providence to labour and perish uselessly; that in the 
very fineness of it there might be something rendering it 
invisible to ordinary eyes; but that, with this strange excel- 
lence, faults might be mingled which would be as deadly as 
its virtues were vain; that the glory of it was perishable, as 
well as invisible, and the gift and grace of it might be to us 
as snow in summer and as rain in harvest. 

That was the first mystery of life to me. But, while my 
best energy was given to the study of painting, I had put 
collateral effort, more prudent if less enthusiastic, into that 
of architecture; and in this I could not complain of meeting 
with no sympathy. Among several personal reasons which 
caused me to desire that I might give this, my closing lec- 
ture on the subject of art here, in Ireland, one of the chief 
was, that in reading it, I should stand near the beautiful 
building, — the engineer's school of your college, — which was 
the first realization I had the joy to see, of the principles I 
had, until then, been endeavouring to teach! but which, 
alas, is now, to me, no more than the richly canopied monu- 
ment of one of the most earnest souls that ever gave itself 
to the arts, and one of my truest and most loving friends, 
Benjamin Woodward. Nor was it here in Ireland only that I 
received the help of Irish sympathy and genius. When to 
another friend, Sir Thomas Deane, with Mr. Woodward, 
was entrusted the building of the museum at Oxford, the 
best details of the work were executed by sculptors who had 
been born and trained here; and the first window of the 
facade of the building, in which was inaugurated the study 
of natural science in England, in true fellowship with 
literature, was carved from my design by an Irish sculptor. 

You may perhaps think that no man ought to speak of 



328 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

disappointment, to whom, even in one branch of labour, 
so much success was granted. Had Mr. Woodward now been 
beside me, I had not so spoken; but his gentle and passion- 
ate spirit was cut off from the fulfilment of its purposes, and 
the work we did together is now become vain. It may not be 
so in future; but the architecture we endeavoured to intro- 
duce is inconsistent alike with the reckless luxury, the de- 
forming mechanism, and the squalid misery of modern 
cities; among the formative fashions of the day, aided, espe- 
cially in England, by ecclesiastical sentiment, it indeed ob- 
tained notoriety; and sometimes behind an engine furnace, 
or a railroad bank, you may detect the pathetic discord of 
its momentary grace, and, with toil, decipher its floral carv- 
ings choked with soot. I felt answerable to the schools I 
loved, only for their injury. I perceived that this new por- 
tion of my strength had also been spent in vain; and from 
amidst streets of iron, and palaces of crystal, shrank back at 
last to the carving of the mountain and colour of the flower. 
And still I could tell of failure, and failure repeated, as 
years went on; but I have trespassed enough on your pa- 
tience to show you, in part, the causes of my discouragement. 
Now let me more deliberately tell you its results. You know 
there is a tendency in the minds of many men, when they 
are heavily disappointed in the main purposes of their life, 
to feel, and perhaps in warning, perhaps in mockery, to 
declare, that life itself is a vanity. Because it has disap- 
pointed them, they think its nature is of disappointment 
always, or at best, of pleasure that can be grasped by imagi- 
nation only; that the cloud of it has no strength nor fire 
within; but is a painted cloud only, to be delighted in, yet 
despised. You know how beautifully Pope has expressed this 
particular phase of thought: — 

"Meanwhile opinion gilds, with varying rays, 
These painted clouds that beautify our days; 
Each want of happiness by hope supplied, 
And each vacuity of sense, by pride. 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 329 

Hope builds as fast as Knowledge can destroy; 
In Folly's cup, still laughs the bubble joy. 
One pleasure past, another still we gain, 
And not a vanity is given in vain."* 

But the effect of failure upon my own mind has been just 
the reverse of this. The more that my life disappointed me, 
the more solemn and wonderful it became to me. It seemed, 
contrarily to Pope's saying, that the vanity of it was indeed 
given in vain; but that there was something behind the veil 
of it, which was not vanity. It became to me not a painted 
cloud, but a terrible and impenetrable one: not a mirage, 
which vanished as I drew near, but a pillar of darkness, to 
which I was forbidden to draw near. For I saw that both 
my own failure, and such success in petty things as in its 
poor triumph seemed to me worse than failure, came from 
the want of sufficiently earnest effort to understand the 
whole law and meaning of existence, and to bring it to 
noble and due end; as, on the other hand, I saw more and 
more clearly that all enduring success in the arts, or in any 
other occupation, had come from the ruling of lower pur- 
poses, not by a conviction of their nothingness, but by a 
solemn faith in the advancing power of human nature, or 
in the promise, however dimly apprehended, that the mortal 
part of it would one day be swallowed up in immortality; 
and that, indeed, the arts themselves never had reached any 
vital strength or honour, but in the effort to proclaim this 
immortality, and in the service either of great and just 
religion, or of some unselfish patriotism, and law of such 
national life as must be the foundation of religion. 

Nothing that I have ever said is more true or necessary — 
nothing has been more misunderstood or misapplied — than 
my strong assertion that the arts can never be right them- 
selves, unless their motive is right. It is misunderstood this 
way: weak painters, who have never learned their business, 
and cannot lay a true line, continually come to me, crying 

* Essay on Man, II, 283-90. 



330 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

out — "Look at this picture of mine; it must be good, I had 
such a lovely motive. I have put my whole heart into it, 
and taken years to think over its treatment." Well, the only 
answer for these people is — if one had the cruelty to make it 
— "Sir, you cannot think over anything in any number of 
years, — you haven't the head to do it; and though you had 
fine motives, strong enough to make you burn yourself in a 
slow fire, if only first you could paint a picture, you can't 
paint one, nor half an inch of one; you haven't the hand to 
do it." 

But, far more decisively we have to say to the men who 
do know their business, or may know it if they choose — 
"Sir, you have this gift, and a mighty one; see that you 
serve your nation faithfully with it. It is a greater trust than 
ships and armies: you might cast them away, if you were 
their captain, with less treason to your people than in cast- 
ing your own glorious power away, and serving the devil 
with it instead of men. Ships and armies you may replace 
if they are lost, but a great intellect, once abused, is a curse 
to the earth for ever." 

This, then, I meant by saying that the arts must have 
noble motive. This also I said respecting them, that they 
never had prospered, nor could prosper, but when they had 
such true purpose, and were devoted to the proclamation of 
divine truth or law. And yet I saw also that they had always 
failed in this proclamation — that poetry, and sculpture, and 
painting, though only great when they strove to teach us 
something about the gods, never had taught us anything 
trustworthy about the gods, but had always betrayed their 
trust in the crisis of it, and, with their powers at the full 
reach, became ministers to pride and to lust. And I felt also, 
with increasing amazement, the unconquerable apathy in 
ourselves and hearers, no less than in these the teachers; and 
that while the wisdom and Tightness of every act and art of 
life could only be consistent with a right understanding of 
the ends of life, we were all plunged as in a languid dream — 
our hearts fat, and our eyes heavy, and our ears closed, lest 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 331 

the inspiration of hand or voice should reach us — lest we 
should see with our eyes, and understand with our hearts, 
and be healed. 

This intense apathy in all of us is the first great mystery 
of life; it stands in the way of every perception, every virtue. 
There is no making ourselves feel enough astonishment at 
it. That the occupations or pastimes of life should have no 
motive, is understandable; but — That life itself should have 
no motive — that we neither care to find out what it may 
lead to, nor to guard against its being forever taken away 
from us — here is a mystery indeed. For just suppose I were 
able to call at this moment to anyone in this audience by 
name, and to tell him positively that I knew a large estate 
had been lately left to him on some curious conditions; but 
that though I knew it was large, I did not know how large, 
nor even where it was — whether in the East Indies or the 
West, or in England, or at the Antipodes. I only knew it 
was a vast estate, and that there was a chance of his losing 
it altogether if he did not soon find out on what terms it 
had been left to him. Suppose I were able to say this posi- 
tively to any single man in this audience, and he knew that 
I did not speak without warrant, do you think that he would 
rest content with that vague knowledge, if it were anywise 
possible to obtain more? Would he not give every energy to 
find some trace of the facts, and never rest till he had ascer- 
tained where this place was, and what it was like? And sup- 
pose he were a young man, and all he could discover by his 
best endeavor was that the estate was never to be his at all, 
unless he persevered, during certain years of probation, in 
an orderly and industrious life; but that, according to the 
Tightness of his conduct, the portion of the estate assigned 
to him would be greater or less, so that it literally depended 
on his behavior from day to day whether he got ten thou- 
sand a year, or thirty thousand a year, or nothing whatever 
— would you not think it strange if the youth never troubled 
himself to satisfy the conditions in any way, nor ever to 
know what was required of him, but lived exactly as he 



332 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

chose, and never inquired whether his chances of the estate 
were increasing or passing away? Well, you know that this 
is actually and literally so with the greater number of the 
educated persons now living in Christian countries. Nearly 
every man and woman in any company such as this, out- 
wardly professes to believe — and a large number unquestion- 
ably think they believe — much more than this; not only that 
a quite unlimited estate is in prospect for them if they 
please the Holder of it, but that the infinite contrary of such 
a possession — an estate of perpetual misery — is in store for 
them if they displease this great Land-Holder, this great 
Heaven-Holder. And yet there is not one in a thousand of 
these human souls that cares to think, for ten minutes of the 
day, where this estate is or how beautiful it is, or what kind 
of life they are to lead in it, or what kind of life they must 
lead to obtain it. 

You fancy that you care to know this: so little do you care 
that, probably, at this moment many of you are displeased 
with me for talking of the matter! You came to hear about 
the Art of this world, not about the Life of the next, and 
you are provoked with me for talking of what you can hear 
any Sunday in church. But do not be afraid. I will tell you 
something before you go about pictures, and carvings, and 
pottery, and what else you would like better to hear of than 
the other world. Nay, perhaps you say, "We want you to 
talk of pictures and pottery, because we are sure that you 
know something of them, and you know nothing of the 
other world." Well — I don't. That is quite true. But the 
very strangeness and mystery of which I urge you to take 
notice, is in this — that I do not; — nor you either. Can you 
answer a single bold question unflinchingly about that 
other world? — Are you sure there is a heaven? Sure there is 
a hell? Sure that men are dropping before your faces 
through the pavements of these streets into eternal fire, or 
sure that they are not? Sure that at your own death you are 
going to be delivered from all sorrow, to be endowed with 
all virtue, to be gifted with all felicity, and raised into per- 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 333 

petual companionship with a King, compared to whom the 
kings of the earth are as grasshoppers, and the nations as 
the dust of His feet? Are you sure of this? or, if not sure, 
do any of us so much as care to make it sure? and, if not, 
how can anything that we do be right — how can anything 
we think be wise? what honour can there be in the arts that 
amuse us, or what profit in the possessions that please? 

Is not this a mystery of life? 

But farther, you may, perhaps, think it a beneficent ordi- 
nance for the generality of men that they do not, with 
earnestness or anxiety, dwell on such questions of the future 
because the business of the day could not be done if this 
kind of thought were taken by all of us for the morrow. Be 
it so: but at least we might anticipate that the greatest and 
wisest of us, who were evidently the appointed teachers of 
the rest, would set themselves apart to seek out whatever 
could be surely known of the future destinies of their race; 
and to teach this in no rhetorical or ambiguous manner, but 
in the plainest and most severely earnest words. 

Now, the highest representatives of men who have thus 
endeavoured, during the Christian era, to search out these 
deep things, and relate them, are Dante and Milton. There 
are none who for earnestness of thought, for mastery of 
word, can be classed with these. I am not at present, mind 
you, speaking of persons set apart in any priestly or pastoral 
office, to deliver creeds to us, or doctrines; but of men who 
try to discover and set forth, as far as by human intellect is 
possible, the facts of the other world. Divines may perhaps 
teach us how to arrive there, but only these two poets have 
in any powerful manner striven to discover, or in any 
definite words professed to tell, what we shall see and be- 
come there; or how those upper and nether worlds are, and 
have been, inhabited. 

And what have they told us? Milton's account of the most 
important event in his whole system of the universe, the 
fall of the angels, is evidently unbelievable to himself; and 
the more so, that it is wholly founded on, and in a great part 



334 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

spoiled and degraded from, Hesiod's account of the decisive 
war of the younger gods with the Titans. The rest of his 
poem is a picturesque drama, in which every artifice of 
invention is visibly and consciously employed; not a single 
fact being, for an instant, conceived as tenable by any living 
faith. Dante's conception is far more intense, and, by him- 
self, for the time, not to be escaped from; it is indeed a 
vision, but a vision only, and that one of the wildest that 
ever entranced a soul — a dream in which every grotesque 
type or phantasy of heathen tradition is renewed, and 
adorned; and the destinies of the Christian Church, under 
their most sacred symbols, become literally subordinate to 
the praise, and are only to be understood by the aid, of one 
dear Florentine maiden. 

I tell you truly that, as I strive more with this strange 
lethargy and trance in myself, and awake to the meaning 
and power of life, it seems daily more amazing to me that 
men such as these should dare to play with the most precious 
truths, (or the most deadly untruths,) by which the whole 
human race listening to them could be informed, or de- 
ceived; — all the world their audiences for ever, with pleased 
ear, and passionate heart; — and yet, to this submissive in- 
finitude of souls, and evermore succeeding and succeeding 
multitude, hungry for bread of life, they do but play upon 
sweetly modulated pipes; with pompous nomenclature 
adorn the councils of hell; touch a troubadour's guitar to 
the courses of the suns; and fill the openings of eternity, 
before which prophets have veiled their faces, and which 
angels desire to look into, with idle puppets of their scho- 
lastic imagination, and melancholy lights of frantic faith in 
their lost mortal love. 

Is not this a mystery of life? 

But more. We have to remember that these two great 
teachers were both of them warped in their temper, and 
thwarted in their search for truth. They were men of in- 
tellectual war, unable, through darkness of controversy, or 
stress of personal grief, to discern where their own ambi- 






THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 335 

tion modified their utterances of the moral law; or their own 
agony mingled with their anger at its violation. But greater 
men than these have been — innocent-hearted — too great 
for contest. Men, like Homer and Shakespeare, of so un- 
recognized personality, that it disappears in future ages, 
and becomes ghostly, like the tradition of a lost heathen 
god. Men, therefore, to whose unoffended, uncondemning 
sight, the whole of human nature reveals itself in a pathetic 
weakness, with which they will not strive; or in mournful 
and transitory strength, which they dare not praise. And all 
Pagan and Christian Civilization thus becomes subject to 
them. It does not matter how little, or how much, any of us 
have read, either of Homer or Shakespeare; everything 
round us, in substance, or in thought, has been moulded by 
them. All Greek gentlemen were educated under Homer. 
All Roman gentlemen, by Greek literature. All Italian, and 
French, and English gentlemen, by Roman literature, and 
by its principles. Of the scope of Shakespeare, I will say 
only, that the intellectual measure of every man since born, 
in the domains of creative thought, may be assigned to him, 
according to the degree in which he has been taught by 
Shakespeare. Well, what do these two men, centres of mortal 
intelligence, deliver to us of conviction respecting what it 
most behoves that intelligence to grasp? What is their hope 
— their crown of rejoicing? what manner of exhortation 
have they for us, or of rebuke? what lies next their own 
hearts, and dictates their undying words? Have they any 
peace to promise to our unrest — any redemption to our 
misery? 

Take Homer first, and think if there is any sadder image 
of human fate than the great Homeric story. The main 
features in the character of Achilles are its intense desire 
of justice, and its tenderness of affection. And in that bitter 
song of the Iliad, this man, though aided continually by the 
wisest of the gods, and burning with the desire of justice in 
his heart, becomes yet, through ill-governed passion, the 
most unjust of men: and, full of the deepest tenderness in 



336 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

his heart, becomes yet, through ill-governed passion, the 
most cruel of men. Intense alike in love and in friendship, 
he loses, first his mistress, and then his friend; for the sake 
of the one, he surrenders to death the armies of his own 
land; for the sake of the other, he surrenders all. Will a man 
lay down his life for his friend? Yea — even for his dead 
friend, this Achilles, though goddess-born, and goddess- 
taught, gives up his kingdom, his country, and his life — 
casts alike the innocent and guilty, with himself, into one 
gulf of slaughter, and dies at last by the hand of the basest 
of his adversaries. 

Is not this a mystery of life? 

But what, then, is the message to us of our own poet, 
and searcher of hearts, after fifteen hundred years of Chris- 
tian faith have been numbered over the graves of men? Are 
his words more cheerful than the Heathen's — is his hope 
more near — his trust more sure — his reading of fate more 
happy? Ah, no! He differs from the Heathen poet chiefly in 
this — that he recognizes, for deliverance, no gods nigh at 
hand; and that, by petty chance — by momentary folly — by 
broken message — by fool's tyranny — or traitor's snare, the 
strongest and most righteous are brought to their ruin, and 
perish without word of hope. He indeed, as part of his 
rendering of character, ascribes the power and modesty of 
habitual devotion to the gentle and the just. The death-bed 
of Katharine is bright with visions of angels; and the great 
soldier-king, standing by his few dead, acknowledges the 
presence of the Hand that can save alike by many or by 
few. But observe that from those who with deepest spirit, 
meditate, and with deepest passion, mourn, there are no 
such words as these; nor in their hearts are any such consola- 
tions. Instead of the perpetual sense of the helpful presence 
of the Deity, which, through all heathen tradition, is the 
source of heroic strength, in battle, in exile, and in the 
valley of the shadow of death, we find only in the great 
Christian poet, the consciousness of a moral law, through 
which "the gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 337 

instruments to scourge us"; and of the resolved arbitration 
of the destinies, that conclude into precision of doom what 
we feebly and blindly began; and force us, when our indis- 
cretion serves us, and our deepest plots do pall, to the con- 
fession, that "there's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough 
hew them how we will."* 

Is not this a mystery of life? 

Be it so, then. About this human life that is to be, or that 
is, the wise religious men tell us nothing that we can trust; 
and the wise contemplative men, nothing that can give us 
peace. But there is yet a third class, to whom we may turn — 
the wise practical men. We have sat at the feet of the poets 
who sang of heaven, and they have told us their dreams. 
We have listened to the poets who sang of earth, and they 
have chanted to us dirges and words of despair. But there 
is one class of men more: — men, not capable of vision, nor 
sensitive to sorrow, but firm of purpose — practised in busi- 
ness; learned in all that can be, (by handling,) known. Men, 
whose hearts and hopes are wholly in this present world, 
from whom, therefore, we may surely learn, at least, how, 
at present, conveniently to live in it. What will they say to 
us, or show us by example? These kings — these councillors — 
these statesmen and builders of kingdoms — these capitalists 
and men of business, who weigh the earth, and the dust of 
it, in a balance. They know the world, surely; and what is 
the mystery of life to us, is none to them. They can surely 
show us how to live, while we live, and to gather out of the 
present world what is best. 

I think I can best tell you their answer, by telling you a 
dream I had once. For though I am no poet, I have dreams 
sometimes: — I dreamed I was at a child's May-day party, in 
which every means of entertainment had been provided for 
them by a wise and kind host. It was in a stately house, with 
beautiful gardens attached to it; and the children had been 
set free in the rooms and gardens, with no care whatever 
but how to pass their afternoon rejoicingly. They did not, 
* King Lear, V, iii, 170-171; Hamlet, V, ii, 10-11. 



338 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

indeed, know much about what was to happen next day; 
and some of them, I thought, were a little frightened, be- 
cause there was a chance of their being sent to a new school 
where there were examinations; but they kept the thoughts 
of that out of their heads as well as they could, and resolved 
to enjoy themselves. The house, I said, was in a beautiful 
garden, and in the garden were all kinds of flowers; sweet, 
grassy banks for rest; and smooth lawns for play; and 
pleasant streams and woods; and rocky places for climbing. 
And the children were happy for a little while, but presently 
they separated themselves into parties; and then each party 
declared it would have a piece of the garden for its own, 
and that none of the others should have anything to do with 
that piece. Next, they quarrelled violently which pieces they 
would have; and at last the boys took up the thing, as boys 
should do, "practically," and fought in the flower-beds till 
there was hardly a flower left standing; then they trampled 
down each other's bits of the garden out of spite; and the 
girls cried till they could cry no more; and so they all lay 
down at last breathless in the ruin, and waited for the time 
when they were to be taken home in the evening.* 

Meanwhile, the children in the house had been making 
themselves happy also in their manner. For them, there had 
been provided every kind of indoor pleasure: there was 
music for them to dance to; and the library was open, with 
all manner of amusing books; and there was a museum full 
of the most curious shells, and animals, and birds; and 
there was a workshop, with lathes and carpenter's tools, for 
the ingenious boys; and there were pretty fantastic dresses, 
for the girls to dress in; and there were microscopes, and 
kaleidoscopes; and whatever toys a child could fancy; and 
a table, in the dining-room, loaded with everything nice to 
eat. 

* I have sometimes been asked what this means. I intended it to set 
forth the wisdom of men in war contending for kingdoms, and what 
follows to set forth their wisdom in peace, contending for wealth. 
[Ruskin's note.] 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 339 

But, in the midst of all this, it struck two or three of the 
more "practical" children, that they would like some of the 
brass-headed nails that studded the chairs; and so they set 
to work to pull them out. Presently, the others, who were 
reading, or looking at shells, took a fancy to do the like; 
and, in a little while, all the children, nearly, were spraining 
their fingers, in pulling out brass-headed nails. With all that 
they could pull out, they were not satisfied; and then, every- 
body wanted some of somebody else's. And at last, the really 
practical and sensible ones declared, that nothing was of any 
real consequence, that afternoon, except to get plenty of 
brass-headed nails; and that the books, and the cakes, and 
the microscopes were of no use at all in themselves, but only, 
if they could be exchanged for nail-heads. And at last they 
began to fight for nail-heads, as the others fought for the 
bits of garden. Only here and there, a despised one shrank 
away into a corner, and tried to get a little quiet with a 
book, in the midst of the noise; but all the practical 
ones thought of nothing else but counting nail-heads all the 
afternoon — even though they knew they would not be al- 
lowed to carry so much as one brass knob away with them. 
But no — it was — "who has most nails? I have a hundred, 
and you have fifty; or, I have a thousand, and you have two. 
I must have as many as you before I leave the house, or I 
cannot possibly go home in peace." At last, they made so 
much noise that I awoke, and thought to myself, "What a 
false dream that is, of children!" The child is the father of 
the man; and wiser. Children never do such foolish things. 
Only men do. 

But there is yet one last class of persons to be interrogated. 
The wise religious men we have asked in vain; the wise 
contemplative men, in vain; the wise worldly men, in vain. 
But there is another group yet. In the midst of this vanity 
of empty religion — of tragic contemplation — of wrathful 
and wretched ambition, and dispute for dust, there is yet 
one great group of persons, by whom all these disputers live 
— the persons who have determined, or have had it by a 



340 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

beneficent Providence determined for them, that they will 
do something useful; that whatever may be prepared for 
them hereafter, or happen to them here, they will, at least, 
deserve the food that God gives them by winning it hon- 
ourably: and that, however fallen from the purity, or far 
from the peace, of Eden, they will carry out the duty of 
human dominion, though they have lost its felicity; and 
dress and keep the wilderness, though they no more can 
dress or keep the garden. 

These, — hewers of wood, and drawers of water, — these, 
bent under burdens, or torn of scourges — these, that dig 
and weave — that plant and build; workers in wood, and in 
marble, and in iron — by whom all food, clothing, habita- 
tion, furniture, and means of delight are produced, for 
themselves, and for all men besides; men, whose deeds are 
good, though their words may be few; men, whose lives are 
serviceable, be they never so short, and worthy of honour, 
be they never so humble; — from these, surely, at least, we 
may receive some clear message of teaching; and pierce, for 
an instant, into the mystery of life, and of its arts. 

Yes; from these, at last, we do receive a lesson. But I 
grieve to say, or rather — for that is the deeper truth of the 
matter — I rejoice to say — this message of theirs can only be 
received by joining them — not by thinking about them. 

You sent for me to talk to you of art; and I have obeyed 
you in coming. But the main thing I have to tell you is, — 
that art must not be talked about. The fact that there is 
talk about it at all, signifies that it is ill done, or cannot be 
done. No true painter ever speaks, or ever has spoken, much 
of his art. The greatest speak nothing. Even Reynolds is no 
exception, for he wrote of all that he could not himself do, 
and was utterly silent respecting all that he himself did. 

The moment a man can really do his work he becomes 
speechless about it. All words become idle to him — all 
theories. 

Does a bird need to theorize about building its nest, or 
boast of it when built? All good work is essentially done 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 341 

that way — without hesitation, without difficulty, without 
boasting; and in the doers of the best, there is an inner and 
involuntary power which approximates literally to the in- 
stinct of an animal — nay, I am certain that in the most 
perfect human artists, reason does not supersede instinct, 
but is added to an instinct as much more divine than that 
of the lower animals as the human body is more beautiful 
than theirs; that a great singer sings not with less instinct 
than the nightingale, but with more — only more various, 
applicable, and governable; that a great architect does not 
build with less instinct than the beaver or the bee, but with 
more — with an innate cunning of proportion that embraces 
all beauty, and a divine ingenuity of skill that improvises 
all construction. But be that as it may — be the instinct less 
or more than that of inferior animals — like or unlike theirs, 
still the human art is dependent on that first, and then upon 
an amount of practice, of science, — and of imagination dis- 
ciplined by thought, which the true possessor of it knows to 
be incommunicable, and the true critic of it, inexplicable, 
except through long process of laborious years. That jour- 
ney of life's conquest, in which hills over hills, and Alps on 
Alps arose, and sank, — do you think you can make another 
trace it painlessly, by talking? Why, you cannot even carry 
us up an Alp, by talking. You can guide us up it, step by 
step, no otherwise — even so, best silently. You girls, who 
have been among the hills, know how the bad guide chatters 
and gesticulates, and it is "Put your foot here"; and "Mind 
how you balance yourself there"; but the good guide walks 
on quietly, without a word, only with his eyes on you when 
need is, and his arm like an iron bar, if need be. 

In that slow way, also, art can be taught — if you have 
faith in your guide, and will let his arm be to you as an 
iron bar when need is. But in what teacher of art have you 
such faith? Certainly not in me; for, as I told you at first, 
I know well enough it is only because you think I can talk, 
not because you think I know my business, that you let me 
speak to you at all. If I were to tell you anything that 



342 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

seemed to you strange you would not believe it, and yet it 
would only be in telling you strange things that I could be 
of use to you. I could be of great use to you — infinite use — 
with brief saying, if you would believe it; but you would 
not, just because the thing that would be of real use would 
displease you. You are all wild, for instance, with admira- 
tion of Gustave Dore. Well, suppose I were to tell you, in 
the strongest terms I could use, that Gustave Dore's art 
was bad — bad, not in weakness, — not in failure, — but bad 
with dreadful power — the power of the Furies and the 
Harpies mingled, enraging, and polluting; that so long as 
you looked at it, no perception of pure or beautiful art was 
possible for you. Suppose I were to tell you that! What 
would be the use? Would you look at Gustave Dore less? 
Rather, more, I fancy. On the other hand, I could soon put 
you into good humour with me, if I chose. I know well 
enough what you like, and how to praise it to your better 
liking. I could talk to you about moonlight, and twilight, 
and spring flowers, and autumn leaves, and the Madonnas 
of Raphael — how motherly! and the Sibyls of Michael 
Angelo — how majestic! and the Saints of Angelico — how 
pious! and the Cherubs of Correggio — how delicious! Old as 
I am, I could play you a tune on the harp yet, that you 
would dance to. But neither you nor I should be a bit the 
better or wiser; or, if we were, our increased wisdom could 
be of no practical effect. For, indeed, the arts, as regards 
teachableness, differ from the sciences also in this, that their 
power is founded not merely on facts which can be com- 
municated, but on dispositions which require to be created. 
Art is neither to be achieved by effort of thinking, nor ex- 
plained by accuracy of speaking. It is the instinctive and 
necessary result of power, which can only be developed 
through the mind of successive generations, and which 
finally burst into life under social conditions as slow of 
growth as the faculties they regulate. Whole aeras of mighty 
history are summed, and the passions of dead myriads are 
concentrated, in the existence of a noble art; and if that 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 343 

noble art were among us, we should feel it and rejoice; not 
caring in the least to hear lectures on it; and since it is not 
among us, be assured we have to go back to the root of it, 
or, at least, to the place where the stock of it is yet alive, 
and the branches began to die. 

And now, may I have your pardon for pointing out, partly 
with reference to matters which are at this time of greater 
moment than the arts — that if we undertook such recession 
to the vital germ of national arts that have decayed, we 
should find a more singular arrest of their power in Ireland 
than in any other European country? For in the eighth 
century Ireland possessed a school of art in her manuscripts 
and sculpture, which, in many of its qualities — apparently 
in all essential qualities of decorative invention — was quite 
without rival; seeming as if it might have advanced to the 
highest triumphs in architecture and in painting. But there 
was one fatal flaw in its nature, by which it was stayed, and 
stayed with a conspicuousness of pause to which there is no 
parallel: so that, long ago, in tracing the progress of Euro- 
pean schools from infancy to strength, I chose for the stu- 
dents of Kensington, in a lecture since published, two 
characteristic examples of early art, of equal skill; but in 
the one case, skill which was progressive — in the other, skill 
which was at pause. In the one case, it was work receptive 
of correction — hungry for correction; and in the other, work 
which inherently rejected correction. I chose for them a 
corrigible Eve, and an incorrigible Angel, and I grieve to 
say that the incorrigible Angel was also an Irish Angel!* 

And the fatal difference lay wholly in this. In both pieces 
of art there was an equal falling short of the needs of fact; 
but the Lombardic Eve knew she was in the wrong, and the 
Irish Angel thought himself all right. The eager Lombardic 
sculptor, though firmly insisting on his childish idea, yet 

* Ruskin here alludes to two incorrigible Irish Angels, one in an 
eighth-century Irish psalter, and the other, Rose La Touche, whom he 
had vainly hoped would be present in his Dublin audience. The cor- 
rigible Eve is sculpted on the pulpit of S. Ambrogio in Milan. 



344 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

showed in the irregular broken touches of the features, and 
the imperfect struggle for softer lines in the form, a percep- 
tion of beauty and law that he could not render; there was 
the strain of effort, under conscious imperfection, in every 
line. But the Irish missal-painter had drawn his angel with 
no sense of failure, in happy complacency, and put red dots 
into the palm of each hand, and rounded the eyes into 
perfect circles, and, I regret to say, left the mouth out alto- 
gether, with perfect satisfaction to himself. 

May I without offence ask you to consider whether this 
mode of arrest in ancient Irish art may not be indicative of 
points of character which even yet, in some measure, arrest 
your national power? I have seen much of Irish character, 
and have watched it closely, for I have also much loved it. 
And I think the form of failure to which it is most liable is 
this, — that being generous-hearted, and wholly intending 
always to do right, it does not attend to the external laws 
of right, but thinks it must necessarily do right because it 
means to do so, and therefore does wrong without finding it 
out; and then, when the consequences of its wrong come 
upon it, or upon others connected with it, it cannot con- 
ceive that the wrong is in anywise of its causing or of its 
doing, but flies into wrath, and a strange agony of desire 
for justice, as feeling itself wholly innocent, which leads it 
farther astray, until there is nothing that it is not capable 
of doing with a good conscience. 

But mind, I do not mean to say that, in past or present 
relations between Ireland and England, you have been 
wrong, and we right. Far from that, I believe that in all 
great questions of principle, and in all details of administra- 
tion of law, you have been usually right, and we wrong; 
sometimes in misunderstanding you, sometimes in resolute 
iniquity to you. Nevertheless, in all disputes between states, 
though the stronger is nearly always mainly in the wrong, 
the weaker is often so in a minor degree; and I think we 
sometimes admit the possibility of our being in error, and 
you never do. 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 345 

And now, returning to the broader question, what these 
arts and labours of life have to teach us of its mystery, this 
is the first of their lessons — that the more beautiful the art, 
the more it is essentially the work of people who feel them- 
selves wrong; — who are striving for the fulfilment of a law, 
and the grasp of a loveliness, which they have not yet at- 
tained, which they feel even farther and farther from at- 
taining the more they strive for it. And yet, in still deeper 
sense, it is the work of people who know also that they are 
right. The very sense of inevitable error from their purpose 
marks the perfectness of that purpose, and the continued 
sense of failure arises from the continued opening of the 
eyes more clearly to all the sacredest laws of truth. 

This is one lesson. The second is a very plain, and greatly 
precious one: namely — that whenever the arts and labours 
of life are fulfilled in this spirit of striving against misrule, 
and doing whatever we have to do, honourably and per- 
fectly, they invariably bring happiness, as much as seems 
possible to the nature of man. In all other paths by which 
that happiness is pursued there is disappointment, or de- 
struction: for ambition and for passion there is no rest — 
no fruition; the fairest pleasures of youth perish in a dark- 
ness greater than their past light: and the loftiest and purest 
love too often does but inflame the cloud of life with end- 
less fire of pain. But, ascending from lowest to highest, 
through every scale of human industry, that industry 
worthily followed, gives peace. Ask the labourer in the field, 
at the forge, or in the mine; ask the patient, delicate-fin- 
gered artisan, or the strong-armed, fiery-hearted worker in 
bronze, and in marble, and with the colours of light; and 
none of these, who are true workmen, will ever tell you, 
that they have found the law of heaven an unkind one — 
that in the sweat of their face they should eat bread, till they 
return to the ground; nor that they ever found it an unre- 
warded obedience, if, indeed, it was rendered faithfully to 
the command — "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do — do it 
with thy might." 



346 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

These are the two great and constant lessons which our 
labourers teach us of the mystery of life. But there is an- 
other, and a sadder one, which they cannot teach us, which 
we must read on their tombstones. 

"Do it with thy might." There have been myriads upon 
myriads of human creatures who have obeyed this law — 
who have put every breath and nerve of their being into 
its toil — who have devoted every hour, and exhausted 
every faculty — who have bequeathed their unaccomplished 
thoughts at death — who, being dead, have yet spoken, by 
majesty of memory, and strength of example. And, at last, 
what has all this "Might" of humanity accomplished, in six 
thousand years of labour and sorrow? What has it done? 
Take the three chief occupations and arts of men, one by 
one, and count their achievements. Begin with the first — 
the lord of them all — Agriculture. Six thousand years have 
passed since we were set to till the ground, from which we 
were taken. How much of it is tilled? How much of that 
which is, wisely or well? In the very centre and chief garden 
of Europe — where the two forms of parent Christianity have 
had their fortresses — where the noble Catholics of the For- 
est Cantons, and the noble Protestants of the Vaudois val- 
leys, have maintained, for dateless ages, their faiths and 
liberties — there the unchecked Alpine rivers yet run wild in 
devastation; and the marshes, which a few hundred men 
could redeem with a year's labour, still blast their helpless 
inhabitants into fevered idiotism. That is so, in the centre 
of Europe! While, on the near coast of Africa, once the 
Garden of the Hesperides, an Arab woman, but a few sun- 
sets since, ate her child, for famine. And, with all the treas- 
ures of the East at our feet, we, in our own dominion, could 
not find a few grains of rice, for a people that asked of us 
no more; but stood by, and saw five hundred thousand of 
them perish of hunger.* 

Then, after agriculture, the art of kings, take the next 
head of human arts — Weaving; the art of queens, honoured 
* During the famine in the province of Orissa, in India. 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 347 

of all noble Heathen women, in the person of their virgin 
goddess — honoured of all Hebrew women, by the word of 
their wisest king — "She layeth her hands to the spindle, and 
her hands hold the distaff; she stretcheth out her hand to 
the poor. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, 
for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh 
herself covering of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. 
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it, and delivereth girdles 
to the merchant.* What have we done in all these thou- 
sands of years with this bright art of Greek maid and Chris- 
tian matron? Six thousand years of weaving, and have we 
learned to weave? Might not every naked wall have been 
purple with tapestry, and every feeble breast fenced with 
sweet colours from the cold? What have we done? Our 
fingers are too few, it seems, to twist together some poor 
covering for our bodies. We set our streams to work for us, 
and choke the air with fire, to turn our spinning-wheels — 
and, — are we yet clothed? Are not the streets of the capitals 
of Europe foul with sale of cast clouts and rotten rags? Is 
not the beauty of your sweet children left in wretchedness 
of disgrace, while, with better honour, nature clothes the 
brood of the bird in its nest, and the suckling of the wolf in 
her den? And does not every winter's snow robe what you 
have not robed, and shroud what you have not shrouded; 
and every winter's wind bear up to heaven its wasted souls, 
to witness against you hereafter, by the voice of their Christ, 
— "I was naked, and ye clothed me not"? 

Lastly — take the Art of Building — the strongest — proud- 
est — most orderly — most enduring of the arts of man; that 
of which the produce is in the surest manner accumulative, 
and need not perish, or be replaced; but if once well done, 
will stand more strongly than the unbalanced rocks — more 
prevalently than the crumbling hills. The art which is as- 
sociated with all civic pride and sacred principle; with 
which men record their power — satisfy their enthusiasm — 
make sure their defence — define and make dear their habi- 
* Proverbs 31:19-22,24. 



348 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

tation. And in six thousand years of building, what have we 
done? Of the greater part of all that skill and strength, no 
vestige is left, but fallen stones, that encumber the fields 
and impede the streams. But, from this waste of disorder, 
and of time, and of rage, what is left to us? Constructive and 
progressive creatures that we are, with ruling brains, and 
forming hands, capable of fellowship, and thirsting for 
fame, can we not contend, in comfort, with the insects of 
the forest, or, in achievement, with the worm of the sea? 
The white surf rages in vain against the ramparts built by 
poor atoms of scarcely nascent life; but only ridges of form- 
less ruin mark the places where once dwelt our noblest 
multitudes. The ant and the moth have cells for each of 
their young, but our little ones lie in festering heaps, in 
homes that consume them like graves; and night by night, 
from the corners of our streets, rises up the cry of the home- 
less — "I was a stranger, and ye took me not in." 

Must it be always thus? Is our life for ever to be without 
profit — without possession? Shall the strength of its genera- 
tions be as barren as death; or cast away their labour, as 
the wild fig-tree casts her untimely figs? Is it all a dream 
then — the desire of the eyes and the pride of life — or, if it 
be, might we not live in nobler dream than this? The poets 
and prophets, the wise men, and the scribes, though they 
have told us nothing about a life to come, have told us much 
about the life that is now. They have had — they also, — their 
dreams, and we have laughed at them. They have dreamed 
of mercy, and of justice; they have dreamed of peace and 
good-will; they have dreamed of labour undisappointed, 
and of rest undisturbed; they have dreamed of fulness in 
harvest, and overflowing in store; they have dreamed of 
wisdom in council, and of providence in law; of gladness 
of parents, and strength of children, and glory of grey hairs. 
And at these visions of theirs we have mocked, and held 
them for idle and vain, unreal and unaccomplishable. What 
have we accomplished with our realities? Is this what has 
come of our worldly wisdom, tried against their folly? this, 
our mightiest possible, against their impotent ideal? or, 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 349 

have we only wandered among the spectra of a baser felicity, 
and chased phantoms of the tombs, instead of visions of 
the Almighty; and walked after the imaginations of our 
evil hearts, instead of after the counsels of Eternity, until 
our lives — not in the likeness of the cloud of heaven, but 
of the smoke of hell — have become "as a vapour, that ap- 
peareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away"? 

Does it vanish then? Are you sure of that? — sure, that the 
nothingness of the grave will be a rest from this troubled 
nothingness; and that the coiling shadow, which disquiets 
itself in vain, cannot change into the smoke of the torment 
that ascends for ever? Will any answer that they are sure of 
it, and that there is no fear, nor hope, nor desire, nor labour, 
whither they go? Be it so: will you not, then, make as sure 
of the Life that now is, as you are of the Death that is to 
come? Your hearts are wholly in this world — will you not 
give them to it wisely, as well as perfectly? And see, first of 
all, that you have hearts, and sound hearts, too, to give. Be- 
cause you have no heaven to look for, is that any reason that 
you should remain ignorant of this wonderful and infinite 
earth, which is firmly and instantly given you in possession? 
Although your days are numbered, and the following dark- 
ness sure, is it necessary that you should share the degrada- 
tion of the brute, because you are condemned to its mortality; 
or live the life of the moth, and of the worm, because 
you are to companion them in the dust? Not so; we may 
have but a few thousands of days to spend, perhaps hun- 
dreds only — perhaps tens; nay, the longest of our time and 
best, looked back on, will be but as a moment, as the 
twinkling of an eye; still we are men, not insects; we are 
living spirits, not passing clouds. "He maketh the winds His 
messengers; the momentary fire, His minister;" and shall we 
do less than these? Let us do the work of men while we bear 
the form of them; and, as we snatch our narrow portion of 
time out of Eternity, snatch also our narrow inheritance of 
passion out of Immortality — even though our lives be as a 
vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth 
away. 



350 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

But there are some of you who believe not this — who 
think this cloud of life has no such close — that it is to float, 
revealed and illumined, upon the floor of heaven, in the day 
when He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him. 
Some day, you believe, within these five, or ten, or twenty 
years, for every one of us the judgment will be set, and the 
books opened. If that be true, far more than that must be 
true. Is there but one day of judgment? Why, for us every 
day is a day of judgment — every day is a Dies Irae, and 
writes its irrevocable verdict in the flame of its West. Think 
you that judgment waits till the doors of the grave are 
opened? It waits at the doors of your houses — it waits at the 
corners of your streets; we are in the midst of judgment — 
the insects that we crush are our judges — the moments we 
fret away are our judges — the elements that feed us, judge, 
as they minister — and the pleasures that deceive us, judge, 
as they indulge. Let us, for our lives, do the work of Men 
while we bear the form of them, if indeed those lives are 
Not as a vapour, and do Not vanish away. 

"The work of men" — and what is that? Well, we may any 
of us know very quickly, on the condition of being wholly 
ready to do it. But many of us are for the most part think- 
ing, not of what we are to do, but of what we are to get; 
and the best of us are sunk into the sin of Ananias, and it is 
a mortal one — we want to keep back part of the price; and 
we continually talk of taking up our cross, as if the only 
harm in a cross was the weight of it — as if it was only a 
thing to be carried, instead of to be — crucified upon. "They 
that are His have crucified the flesh, with the affections and 
lusts." Does that mean, think you, that in time of national 
distress, of religious trial, of crisis for every interest and 
hope of humanity — none of us will cease jesting, none 
cease idling, none put themselves to any wholesome work, 
none take so much as a tag of lace off their footmen's coats, 
to save the world? Or does it rather mean, that they are 
ready to leave houses, lands, and kindreds — yes, and life, 
if need be? Life! — some of us are ready enough to throw 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 351 

that away, joyless as we have made it. But "station in Life" 
— how many of us are ready to quit that? Is it not always 
the great objection, where there is question of finding some- 
thing useful to do — "We cannot leave our stations in Life"? 

Those of us who really cannot — that is to say, who can 
only maintain themselves by continuing in some business 
or salaried office, have already something to do; and all that 
they have to see to is, that they do it honestly and with all 
their might. But with most people who use that apology, 
"remaining in the station of life to which Providence has 
called them" means keeping all the carriages, and all the 
footmen and large houses they can possibly pay for; and, 
once for all, I say that if ever Providence did put them 
into stations of that sort — which is not at all a matter of 
certainty — Providence is just now very distinctly calling 
them out again. Levi's station in life was the receipt of 
custom; and Peter's, the shore of Galilee; and Paul's, the 
antechambers of the High Priest, — which "station in life" 
each had to leave, with brief notice. 

And, whatever our station in life may be, at this crisis, 
those of us who mean to fulfil our duty ought first to live 
on as little as we can; and, secondly, to do all the whole- 
some work for it we can, and to spend all we can spare in 
doing all the sure good we can. 

And sure good is, first in feeding people, then in dressing 
people, then in lodging people, and lastly in rightly pleas- 
ing people, with arts, or sciences, or any other subject of 
thought. 

I say first in feeding; and, once for all, do not let your- 
selves be deceived by any of the common talk of "indis- 
criminate charity." The order to us is not to feed the de- 
serving hungry, nor the industrious hungry, nor the amiable 
and well-intentioned hungry, but simply to feed the hungry. 
It is quite true, infallibly true, that if any man will not 
work, neither should he eat — think of that, and every time 
you sit down to your dinner, ladies and gentlemen, say 
solemnly, before you ask a blessing, "How much work have 



352 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

I done to-day for my dinner?" But the proper way to en- 
force that order on those below you, as well as on yourselves, 
is not to leave vagabonds and honest people to starve to- 
gether, but very distinctly to discern and seize your vaga- 
bond; and shut your vagabond up out of honest people's 
way, and very sternly then see that, until he has worked, he 
does not eat. But the first thing is to be sure you have the 
food to give; and, therefore, to enforce the organization of 
vast activities in agriculture and in commerce, for the pro- 
duction of the wholesomest food, and proper storing and 
distribution of it, so that no famine shall any more be pos- 
sible among civilized beings. There is plenty of work in this 
business alone, and at once, for any number of people who 
like to engage in it. 

Secondly, dressing people — that is to say, urging every 
one within reach of your influence to be always neat and 
clean, and giving them means of being so. In so far as they 
absolutely refuse, you must give up the effort with respect 
to them, only taking care that no children within your 
sphere of influence shall any more be brought up with such 
habits; and that every person who is willing to dress with 
propriety shall have encouragement to do so. And the first 
absolutely necessary step towards this is the gradual adop- 
tion of a consistent dress for different ranks of persons, so 
that their rank shall be known by their dress; and the 
restriction of the changes of fashion within certain limits. 
All which appears for the present quite impossible; but it 
is only so far even difficult as it is difficult to conquer our 
vanity, frivolity, and desire to appear what we are not. And 
it is not, nor ever shall be, creed of mine, that these mean 
and shallow vices are unconquerable by Christian women. 

And then, thirdly, lodging people, which you may think 
should have been put first, but I put it third, because we 
must feed and clothe people where we find them, and lodge 
them afterwards. And providing lodgment for them means 
a great deal of vigorous legislature, and cutting down of 
vested interests that stand in the way, and after that, or 
before that, so far as we can get it, thorough sanitary and 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 353 

remedial action in the houses that we have; and then the 
building of more, strongly, beautifully, and in groups of 
limited extent, kept in proportion to their streams, and 
walled round, so that there may be no festering and 
wretched suburb anywhere, but clean and busy street 
within, and the open country without, with a belt of beauti- 
ful garden and orchard round the walls, so that from any 
part of the city perfectly fresh air and grass, and sight of 
far horizon, might be reachable in a few minutes' walk. This 
the final aim; but in immediate action every minor and 
possible good to be instantly done, when, and as, we can; 
roofs mended that have holes in them — fences patched that 
have gaps in them — walls buttressed that totter — and floors 
propped that shake; cleanliness and order enforced with our 
own hands and eyes, till we are breathless, every day. And 
all the fine arts will healthily follow. I myself have washed 
a flight of stone stairs all down, with bucket and broom, in 
a Savoy inn, where they hadn't washed their stairs since 
they first went up them; and I never made a better sketch 
than that afternoon. 

These, then, are the three first needs of civilized life; and 
the law for every Christian man and woman is, that they 
shall be in direct service toward one of these three needs, as 
far as is consistent with their own special occupation, and 
if they have no special business, then wholly in one of these 
services. And out of such exertion in plain duty all other 
good will come; for in this direct contention with material 
evil, you will find out the real nature of all evil; you will 
discern by the various kinds of resistance, what is really the 
fault and main antagonism to good; also you will find the 
most unexpected helps and profound lessons given, and 
truths will come thus down to us which the speculation of 
all our lives would never have raised us up to. You will find 
nearly every educational problem solved, as soon as you 
truly want to do something; everybody will become of use 
in their own fittest way, and will learn what is best for 
them to know in that use. Competitive examination will 
then, and not till then, be wholesome, because it will be 



354 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

daily, and calm, and in practice; and on these familiar arts, 
and minute, but certain and serviceable knowledges, will be 
surely edified and sustained the greater arts and splendid 
theoretical sciences. 

But much more than this. On such holy and simple prac- 
tice will be founded, indeed, at last, an infallible religion. 
The greatest of all the mysteries of life, and the most terri- 
ble, is the corruption of even the sincerest religion, which 
is not daily founded on rational, effective, humble, and 
helpful action. Helpful action, observe! for there is just 
one law, which, obeyed, keeps all religions pure — forgotten, 
makes them all false. Whenever in any religious faith, dark 
or bright, we allow our minds to dwell upon the points in 
which we differ from other people, we are wrong, and in 
the devil's power. That is the essence of the Pharisee's 
thanksgiving — "Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other 
men are." At every moment of our lives we should be trying 
to find out, not in what we differ from other people, but in 
what we agree with them; and the moment we find we can 
agree as to anything that should be done, kind or good, 
(and who but fools couldn't?) then do it; push at it to- 
gether: you can't quarrel in a side-by-side push; but the 
moment that even the best men stop pushing, and begin 
talking, they mistake their pugnacity for piety, and it's all 
over. I will not speak of the crimes which in past times have 
been committed in the name of Christ, nor of the follies 
which are at this hour held to be consistent with obedience 
to Him; but I will speak of the morbid corruption and 
waste of vital power in religious sentiment, by which the 
pure strength of that which should be the guiding soul of 
every nation, the splendour of its youthful manhood, and 
spotless light of its maidenhood, is averted or cast away. 
You may see continually girls who have never been taught 
to do a single useful thing thoroughly; who cannot sew, 
who cannot cook, who cannot cast an account, nor prepare 
a medicine, whose whole life has been passed either in play 
or in pride; you will find girls like these, when they are 



THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND ITS ARTS 355 

earnest-hearted, cast all their innate passion of religious 
spirit, which was meant by God to support them through 
the irksomeness of daily toil, into grievous and vain medi- 
tation over the meaning of the great Book, of which no 
syllable was ever yet to be understood but through a deed; 
all the instinctive wisdom and mercy of their womanhood 
made vain, and the glory of their pure consciences warped 
into fruitless agony concerning questions which the laws of 
common serviceable life would have either solved for them 
in an instant, or kept out of their way. Give such a girl any 
true work that will make her active in the dawn, and weary 
at night, with the consciousness that her fellow-creatures 
have indeed been the better for her day, and the powerless 
sorrow of her enthusiasm will transform itself into a majesty 
of radiant and beneficent peace. 

So with our youths. We once taught them to make Latin 
verses, and called them educated; now we teach them to 
leap and to row, to hit a ball with a bat, and call them 
educated. Can they plough, can they sow, can they plant at 
the right time, or build with a steady hand? Is it the effort 
of their lives to be chaste, knightly, faithful, holy in thought, 
lovely in word and deed? Indeed it is, with some, nay, with 
many, and the strength of England is in them, and the 
hope; but we have to turn their courage from the toil of 
war to the toil of mercy; and their intellect from dispute of 
words to discernment of things; and their knighthood from 
the errantry of adventure to the state and fidelity of a 
kingly power. And then, indeed, shall abide, for them and 
for us, an incorruptible felicity, and an infallible religion; 
shall abide for us Faith, no more to be assailed by tempta- 
tion, no more to be defended by wrath and by fear; — shall 
abide with us Hope, no more to be quenched by the years 
that overwhelm, or made ashamed by the shadows that 
betray: — shall abide for us, and with us, the greatest of 
these; the abiding will, the abiding name of our Father. For 
the greatest of these is Charity. 



THE QUEEN OP THE AIR 



Athena Keramitis* 

Whatever the origin of species may be, or however those 
species, once formed, may be influenced by external acci- 
dent, the groups into which birth or accident reduce them 
have distinct relation to the spirit of man. It is perfectly 
possible, and ultimately conceivable, that the crocodile and 
the lamb may have descended from the same ancestral atom 
of protoplasm; and that the physical laws of the operation 
of calcareous slime and of meadow grass, on that proto- 
plasm, may in time have developed the opposite natures and 
aspects of the living frames; but the practically important 
fact for us is the existence of a power which creates that 
calcareous earth itself; — which creates that, separately, and 
quartz, separately, and gold, separately, and charcoal, sep- 
arately; and then so directs the relations of these elements 
that the gold may destroy the souls of men by being yellow; 
and the charcoal destroy their souls by being hard and 
bright; and the quartz represent to them an ideal purity; 
and the calcareous earth, soft, may beget crocodiles, and dry 
and hard, sheep; and that the aspects and qualities of these 
two products, crocodiles and lambs, may be, the one repel- 
lent to the spirit of man, the other attractive to it, in a 
quite inevitable way, representing to him states of moral 
evil and good, and becoming myths to him of destruction or 

* "Athena in the Earth," a study of the "relations of Athena to the 
vital force in material organism." 






ATHENA KERAMITIS 357 

redemption, and, in the most literal sense, "Words" of 
God 

Now we have two orders of animals to take some note of 
in connection with Athena, and one vast order of plants, 
which will illustrate this matter very sufficiently for us. 

The two orders of animals are the serpent and the bird; 
the serpent, in which the breath, or spirit, is less than in 
any other creature, and the earth-power greatest: — the bird, 
in which the breath, or spirit, is more full than in any other 
creature, and the earth-power least. 

We will take the bird first. It is little more than a drift 
of the air brought into form by plumes; the air is in all its 
quills, it breathes through its whole frame and flesh, and 
glows with air in its flying, like a blown flame: it rests upon 
the air, subdues it, surpasses it, outraces it; — is the air, con- 
scious of itself, conquering itself, ruling itself. 

Also, into the throat of the bird is given the voice of the 
air. All that in the wind itself is weak, wild, useless in sweet- 
ness, is knit together in its song. As we may imagine the wild 
form of the cloud closed into the perfect form of the bird's 
wings, so the wild voice of the cloud into its ordered and 
commanded voice; unwearied, rippling through the clear 
heaven in its gladness, interpreting all intense passion 
through the soft spring nights, bursting into acclaim and 
rapture of choir at daybreak, or lisping and twittering 
among the boughs and hedges through heat of day, like 
little winds that only make the cowslip bells shake, and 
ruffle the petals of the wild rose. 

Also, upon the plumes of the bird are put the colours of 
the air: on these the gold of the cloud, that cannot be 
gathered by any covetousness; the rubies of the clouds, that 
are not the price of Athena, but are Athena; the vermilion 
of the cloud-bar, and the flame of the cloud-crest, and the 
snow of the cloud, and its shadow, and the melted blue of 
the deep wells of the sky — all these, seized by the creating 
spirit, and woven by Athena herself into films and threads 
of plume; with wave on wave following and fading along 



358 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

breast, and throat, and opened wings, infinite as the dividing 
of the foam and the sifting of the sea-sand: — even the white 
down of the cloud seeming to flutter up between the 
stronger plumes, seen, but too soft for touch. 

And so the Spirit of the Air is put into, and upon, this 
created form; and it becomes, through twenty centuries, the 
symbol of Divine help, descending, as the Fire, to speak, 
but as the Dove, to bless. 

Next, in the serpent we approach the source of a group 
of myths, world-wide, founded on great and common human 
instincts, respecting which I must note one or two points 
which bear intimately on all our subject. For it seems to 
me that the scholars who are at present occupied in inter- 
pretation of human myths have most of them forgotten that 
there are any such things as natural myths; and that the 
dark sayings of men may be both difficult to read, and not 
always worth reading; but the dark sayings of nature will 
probably become clearer for the looking into, and will very 
certainly be worth reading. And, indeed, all guidance to the 
right sense of the human and variable myths will probably 
depend on our first getting at the sense of the natural and 
invariable ones. The dead hieroglyph may have meant this 
or that — the living hieroglyph means always the same; but 
remember, it is just as much a hieroglyph as the other; nay, 
more, — a "sacred or reserved sculpture," a thing with an 
inner language. The serpent crest of the king's crown, or of 
the god's, on the pillars of Egypt, is a mystery; but the 
serpent itself, gliding past the pillar's foot, is it less a mys- 
tery? Is there, indeed, no tongue, except the mute forked 
flash from its lips, in that running brook of horror on the 
ground? 

Why that horror? We all feel it, yet how imaginative it is, 
how disproportioned to the real strength of the creature! 
There is more poison in an ill-kept drain, — in a pool of 
dish-washings at a cottage door, — than in the deadliest asp 
of Nile. Every back-yard which you look down into from 
the railway, as it carries you out by Vauxhall or Deptford, 



ATHENA KERAMITIS 359 

holds its coiled serpent: all the walls of those ghastly sub- 
urbs are enclosures of tank temples for serpent worship; 
yet you feel no horror in looking down into them, as you 
would if you saw the livid scales and lifted head. There is 
more venom, mortal, inevitable, in a single word sometimes, 
or in the gliding entrance of a wordless thought, than ever 
"vanti Libia con sua rena."* But that horror is of the myth, 
not of the creature. There are myriads lower than this, and 
more loathsome, in the scale of being; the links between 
dead matter and animation drift everywhere unseen. But 
it is the strength of the base element that is so dreadful in 
the serpent; it is the very omnipotence of the earth. That 
rivulet of smooth silver — how does it flow, think you? It 
literally rows on the earth, with every scale for an oar; it 
bites the dust with the ridges of its body. Watch it, when it 
moves slowly: — A wave, but without wind! a current, but 
with no fall! all the body moving at the same instant, yet 
some of it to one side, some to another, or some forward, 
and the rest of the coil backwards; but all with the same 
calm will and equal way — no contraction, no extension; 
one soundless, causeless march of sequent rings, and spec- 
tral procession of spotted dust, with dissolution in its fangs, 
dislocation in its coils. Startle it; — the winding stream will 
become a twisted arrow; — the wave of poisoned life will 
lash through the grass like a cast lance. It scarcely breathes 
with its one lung (the other shrivelled and abortive); it is 
passive to the sun and shade, and is cold or hot like a 
stone; yet, "it can outclimb the monkey, outswim the fish, 
outleap the jerboa, outwrestle the athlete, and crush the 
tiger." It is a divine hieroglyph of the demoniac power of 
the earth, — of the entire earthly nature. As the bird is the 
clothed power of the air, so this is the clothed power of the 
dust; as the bird the symbol of the spirit of life, so this of 
the grasp and sting of death. 

* In the Inferno, XXIV, 82-89, Dante describes a throng of serpents 
so hideous that they "let Libya no longer boast of [the power of] her 
sands" to engender monstrosities and plagues. 



360 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Hence the continual change in the interpretation put 
upon it in various religions. As the worm of corruption, it 
is the mightiest of all adversaries of the gods — the special 
adversary of their light and creative power — Python against 
Apollo. As the power of the earth against the air, the giants 
are serpent-bodied in the Gigantomachia; but as the power 
of the earth upon the seed — consuming it into new life 
("that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die") — 
serpents sustain the chariot of the spirit of agriculture. 

Yet, on the other hand, there is a power in the earth to 
take away corruption, and to purify, (hence the very fact 
of burial, and many uses of earth, only lately known); and 
in this sense, the serpent is a healing spirit, — the representa- 
tive of JEsculapius, and of Hygieia; and is a sacred earth- 
type in the temple of the Dew; — being there especially a 
symbol of the native earth of Athens; so that its departure 
from the temple was a sign to the Athenians that they were 
to leave their homes. And then, lastly, as there is a strength 
and healing in the earth, no less than the strength of air, 
so there is conceived to be a wisdom of earth no less than a 
wisdom of the spirit; and when its deadly power is killed, 
its guiding power becomes true; so that the Python serpent 
is killed at Delphi, where yet the oracle is from the breath of 
the earth. 

You must remember, however, that in this, as in every 
other instance, I take the myth at its central time. This is 
only the meaning of the serpent to the Greek mind which 
could conceive an Athena. Its first meaning to the nascent 
eyes of men, and its continued influence over degraded 
races, are subjects of the most fearful mystery. Mr. Fergusson 
has just collected the principal evidence bearing on the 
matter in a work of very great value,* and if you read his 
opening chapters, they will put you in possession of the 
circumstances needing chiefly to be considered. I cannot 
touch upon any of them here, except only to point out that, 
though the doctrine of the so-called "corruption of human 

* James Fergusson, Tree and Serpent Worship; or, Illustrations of 
Mythology and Art in India, 1868. 






ATHENA KERAMITIS 361 

nature," asserting that there is nothing but evil in human- 
ity, is just as blasphemous and false as a doctrine of the 
corruption of physical nature would be, asserting there was 
nothing but evil in the earth, — there is yet the clearest evi- 
dence of a disease, plague, or cretinous imperfection of 
development, hitherto allowed to prevail against the greater 
part of the races of men; and this in monstrous ways, more 
full of mystery than the serpent-being itself. I have gathered 
for you to-night only instances of what is beautiful in Greek 
religion; but even in its best time there were deep corrup- 
tions in other phases of it, and degraded forms of many 
of its deities, all originating in a misunderstood worship of 
the principle of life; while in the religions of lower races, 
little else than these corrupted forms of devotion can be 
found; — all having a strange and dreadful consistency with 
each other, and infecting Christianity, even at its strongest 
periods, with fatal terror of doctrine, and ghastliness of sym- 
bolic conception, passing through fear into frenzied gro- 
tesque, and thence into sensuality. 

In the Psalter of S. Louis itself, half of its letters are 
twisted snakes; there is scarcely a wreathed ornament, em- 
ployed in Christian dress, or architecture, which cannot be 
traced back to the serpent's coil; and there is rarely a piece 
of monkish decorated writing in the world, that is not 
tainted with some ill-meant vileness of grotesque — nay, the 
very leaves of the twisted ivy-pattern of the fourteenth cen- 
tury can be followed back to wreaths for the foreheads of 
bacchanalian gods. And truly, it seems to me, as I gather in 
my mind the evidences of insane religion, degraded art, 
merciless war, sullen toil, detestable pleasure, and vain or 
vile hope, in which the nations of the world have lived since 
first they could bear record of themselves — it seems to me, 
I say, as if the race itself were still half-serpent, not extri- 
cated yet from its clay; a lacertine breed of bitterness — the 
glory of it emaciate with cruel hunger, and blotted with 
venomous stain: and the track of it, on the leaf a glittering 
slime, and in the sand a useless furrow. 



FOBS CLAVIGERA 



The White-Thorn Blossom 

"For lo, the winter is past, 
The rain is over and gone, 
The flowers appear on the earth, 
The time of the singing of birds is come, 

Arise, O my fair one, my dove, 
And come."-f 

Denmark Hill, 1st May, 1871. 

My Friends, — It has been asked of me, very justly, why I 
have hitherto written to you of things you were little likely 
to care for, in words which it was difficult for you to under- 
stand. 

* The source of this most allusive of Ruskin's titles was Horace's 
image of "implacable Fate, the Nail-bearer" (Odes i. 35). The first 
word of the title means Chance or Accident, but Ruskin used it 
interchangeably in the three senses of Force, Fortitude, and Fortune. 
Clavigera means Club-bearer (clava plus gero, to bear), Key-bearer 
(clavis), and Nail-bearer (clavus). Force with the club represents the 
wise and strong man armed; Fortitude with the key represents Pa- 
tience, the portress at the gate of Art; Fortune with the nail repre- 
sents the fixed power of Necessity. With the third meaning of Fors, 
Ruskin also associated the Three Fates of the Greeks which control 
the thread of our destiny. Each of these meaning shades into all the 
others, until the title comes finally to represent the Fate which wove 
the tragic pattern of Ruskin's life and the Chance which led him to 
mirror that pattern with such an anarchy of digression throughout 
the book, 
f Song of Solomon 2:11-13. 



THE WHITE-THORN BLOSSOM 363 

I have no fear but that you will one day understand all 
my poor words, — the saddest of them, perhaps, too well. 
But I have great fear that you may never come to under- 
stand these written above, which are part of a king's love- 
song, in one sweet May, of many long since gone. 

I fear that for you the wild winter's rain may never pass, 
— the flowers never appear on the earth; — that for you no 
bird may ever sing; — for you no perfect Love arise, and 
fulfil your life in peace. 

"And why not for us, as for others?" will you answer me 
so, and take my fear for you as an insult? 

Nay, it is no insult; — nor am I happier than you. For 
me, the birds do not sing, nor ever will. But they would, 
for you, if you cared to have it so. When I told you that 
you would never understand that love-song, I meant only 
that you would not desire to understand it. 

Are you again indignant with me? Do you think, though 
you should labour, and grieve, and be trodden down in 
dishonour all your days, at least you can keep that one 
joy of Love, and that one honour of Home? Had you, in- 
deed, kept that, you had kept all. But no men yet, in the 
history of the race, have lost it so piteously. In many a coun- 
try, and many an age, women have been compelled to la- 
bour for their husbands' wealth, or bread; but never until 
now were they so homeless as to say, like the poor Samari- 
tan, "I have no husband." Women of every country and 
people have sustained without complaint the labour of 
fellowship: for the women of the latter days in England it 
has been reserved to claim the privilege of isolation. 

This, then, is the end of your universal education and 
civilization, and contempt of the ignorance of the Middle 
Ages, and of their chivalry. Not only do you declare your- 
selves too indolent to labour for daughters and wives, and 
too poor to support them; but you have made the neglected 
and distracted creatures hold it for an honour to be inde- 
pendent of you, and shriek for some hold of the mattock 
for themselves. Believe it or not, as you may, there has not 



364 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

been so low a level of thought reached by any race, since 
they grew to be male and female out of star-fish, or chick- 
weed, or whatever else they have been made from, by nat- 
ural selection, — according to modern science. 

That modern science also, Economic and of other kinds, 
has reached its climax at last. For it seems to be the ap- 
pointed function of the nineteenth century to exhibit in all 
things the elect pattern of perfect Folly, for a warning to 
the farthest future. Thus the statement of principle which I 
quoted to you in my last letter, from the circular of the 
Emigration Society, that it is over-production which is the 
cause of distress, is accurately the most foolish thing, not 
only hitherto ever said by men, but which it is possible for 
men ever to say, respecting their own business. It is a kind 
of opposite pole (or negative acme of mortal stupidity) to 
Newton's discovery of gravitation as an acme of mortal 
wisdom: — as no wise being on earth will ever be able to 
make such another wise discovery, so no foolish being on 
earth will ever be capable of saying such another foolish 
thing, through all the ages. 

And the same crisis has been exactly reached by our nat- 
ural science and by our art. It has several times chanced to 
me, since I began these papers, to have the exact thing 
shown or brought to me that I wanted for illustration, just 
in time — and it happened that on the very day on which 
I published my last letter, I had to go to the Kensington 
Museum; and there I saw the most perfectly and roundly 
ill-done thing which, as yet, in my whole life I ever saw 
produced by art. It had a tablet in front of it, bearing this 
inscription: — 

"Statue in black and white marble, a Newfoundland Dog 
standing on a Serpent, which rests on a marble cushion, the 
pedestal ornamented with pietra dura fruits in relief. — 
English. Present Century. No. I." 

It was so very right for me, the Kensington people having 
been good enough to number it "I.," the thing itself being 
almost incredible in its one-ness; and, indeed, such a punc- 



THE WHITE-THORN BLOSSOM 365 

tual accent over the iota of Miscreation, — so absolutely and 
exquisitely miscreant, that I am not myself capable of 
conceiving a Number two, or three, or any rivalship or asso- 
ciation with it whatsoever. The extremity of its unvirtue con- 
sisted, observe, mainly in the quantity of instruction which 
was abused in it. It showed that the persons who produced 
it had seen everything, and practised everything; and mis- 
understood everything they saw, and misapplied everything 
they did. They had seen Roman work, and Florentine work, 
and Byzantine work, and Gothic work; and misunderstand- 
ing of everything had passed through them as the mud does 
through earthworms, and here at last was their worm-cast 
of a Production. 

But the second chance that came to me that day, was 
more significant still. From the Kensington Museum I went 
to an afternoon tea, at a house where I was sure to meet some 
nice people. And among the first I met was an old friend 
who had been hearing some lectures on botany at the Ken- 
sington Museum, and been delighted by them. She is the 
kind of person who gets good out of everything, and she 
was quite right in being delighted; besides that, as I found 
by her account of them, the lectures were really interesting, 
and pleasantly given. She had expected botany to be dull, 
and had not found it so, and "had learned so much." On 
hearing this, I proceeded naturally to inquire what; for my 
idea of her was that before she went to the lectures at all, 
she had known more botany than she was likely to learn 
by them. So she told me that she had learned first of all that 
"there were seven sorts of leaves." Now I have always a 
great suspicion of the number Seven; because when I wrote 
the Seven Lamps of Architecture, it required all the in- 
genuity I was master of to prevent them from becoming 
Eight, or even Nine, on my hands. So I thought to myself 
that it would be very charming if there were only seven 
sorts of leaves; but that, perhaps, if one looked the woods 
and forests of the world carefully through, it was just pos- 
sible that one might discover as many as eight sorts; and 
then where would my friend's new knowledge of Botany be? 



366 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

So I said, "That was very pretty; but what more?" Then 
my friend told me that she had no idea, before, that petals 
were leaves. On which, I thought to myself that it would 
not have been any great harm to her if she had remained 
under her old impression that petals were petals. But I said, 
"That was very pretty, too; and what more?" So then my 
friend told me that the lecturer said, "the object of his lec- 
tures would be entirely accomplished if he could convince 
his hearers that there was no such thing as a flower." Now, 
in that sentence you have the most perfect and admirable 
summary given you of the general temper and purposes of 
modern science. It gives lectures on Botany, of which the 
object is to show that there is no such thing as a flower; 
on Humanity, to show that there is no such thing as a 
Man; and on Theology, to show there is no such thing as a 
God. No such thing as a Man, but only a Mechanism; no 
such thing as a God, but only a series of forces. The two 
faiths are essentially one: if you feel yourself to be only a 
machine, constructed to be a Regulator of minor machinery, 
you will put your statue of such science on your Holborn 
Viaduct, and necessarily recognize only major machinery as 
regulating you. 

I must explain the real meaning to you, however, of that 
saying of the Botanical lecturer, for it has a wide bearing. 
Some fifty years ago the poet Goethe discovered that all the 
parts of plants had a kind of common nature, and would 
change into each other. Now this was a true discovery, and 
a notable one; and you will find that, in fact, all plants are 
composed of essentially two parts — the leaf and root — one 
loving the light, the other darkness; one liking to be clean, 
the other to be dirty; one liking to grow for the most part 
up, the other for the most part down; and each having 
faculties and purposes of its own. But the pure one which 
loves the light has, above all things, the purpose of being 
married to another leaf, and having child-leaves, and chil- 
dren's children of leaves, to make the earth fair for ever. 
And when the leaves marry, they put on wedding-robes, and 



THE WHITE-THORN BLOSSOM 367 

are more glorious than Solomon in all his glory, and they 
have feasts of honey, and we call them "Flowers." 

In a certain sense, therefore, you see the lecturer was quite 
right. There are no such things as Flowers — there are only 
— gladdened Leaves. Nay, farther than this, there may be a 
dignity in the less happy, but unwithering leaf, which is, in 
some sort, better than the brief lily of its bloom; — 
which the great poets always knew, — well; — Chaucer, before 
Goethe; and the writer of the first Psalm, before Chaucer. 
The Botanical lecturer was, in a deeper sense than he knew, 
right. 

But in the deepest sense of all, the Botanical lecturer was, 
to the extremity of wrongness, wrong; for leaf, and root, 
and fruit, exist, all of them, only — that there may be 
flowers. He disregarded the life and passion of the creature, 
which were its essence. Had he looked for these, he would 
have recognized that in the thought of Nature herself, there 
is, in a plant, nothing else but its flowers. 

Now in exactly the sense that modern Science declares 
there is no such thing as a Flower, it has declared there is 
no such thing as a Man, but only a transitional form of 
Ascidians and apes. It may, or may not be true — it is not 
of the smallest consequence whether it be or not. The real 
fact is, that, rightly seen with human eyes, there is nothing 
else but man; that all animals and beings beside him are 
only made that they may change into him; that the world 
truly exists only in the presence of Man, acts only in the 
passion of Man. The essence of light is in his eyes, — the 
centre of Force in his soul, — the pertinence of action in his 
deeds. 

And all true science — which my Savoyard guide rightly 
scorned me when he thought I had not, — all true science is 
"savoir vivre."* But all your modern science is the contrary 
of that. It is "savoir mourir." 

* In the previous issue of Fors Ruskin had written of Joseph Couttet, 
his Alpine guide, who used to remark, in quiet exasperation at the 
young Ruskin's gloom, "Le pauvre enfant, il ne sait pas vivre!" 



368 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

And of its very discoveries, such as they are, it cannot 
make use. 

That telegraphic signalling was a discovery; and conceiv- 
ably, some day, may be a useful one. And there was some 
excuse for your being a little proud when, about last sixth 
of April (Cceur-de-Lion's death-day, and Albert Durer's), 
you knotted a copper wire all the way to Bombay, and 
flashed a message along it, and back. 

But what was the message, and what the answer? Is India 
the better for what you said to her? Are you the better for 
what she replied? 

If not, you have only wasted an all-round-the-world's 
length of copper wire, — which is, indeed, about the sum of 
your doing. If you had had, perchance, two words of 
common-sense to say, though you had taken wearisome time 
and trouble to send them; — though you had written them 
slowly in gold, and sealed them with a hundred seals, and 
sent a squadron of ships of the line to carry the scroll, and 
the squadron had fought its way round the Cape of Good 
Hope, through a year of storms, with loss of all its ships 
but one, — the two words of common-sense would have been 
worth the carriage, and more. But you have not anything 
like so much as that to say, either to India, or to any other 
place. 

You think it a great triumph to make the sun draw 
brown landscapes for you. That was also a discovery, and 
some day may be useful. But the sun had drawn landscapes 
before for you, not in brown, but in green, and blue, and 
all imaginable colours, here in England. Not one of you 
ever looked at them then; not one of you cares for the loss 
of them now, when you have shut the sun out with smoke, 
so that he can draw nothing more, except brown blots 
through a hole in a box. There was a rocky valley between 
Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time, divine as the Vale 
of Tempe; you might have seen the Gods there morning 
and evening — Apollo and all the sweet Muses of the light — 
walking in fair procession on the lawns of it, and to and fro 
among the pinnacles of its crags. You cared neither for 



THE WHITE-THORN BLOSSOM 369 

Gods nor grass, but for cash (which you did not know the 
way to get); you thought you could get it by what the 
Times calls "Railroad Enterprise." You Enterprised a Rail- 
road through the valley — you blasted its rocks away, heaped 
thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley 
is gone, and the Gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton 
can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bake- 
well at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of ex- 
change — you Fools Everywhere. 

To talk at a distance, when you have nothing to say, 
though you were ever so near; to go fast from this place 
to that, with nothing to do either at one or the other: these 
are powers certainly. Much more, power of increased Pro- 
duction, if you, indeed, had got it, would be something to 
boast of. But are you so entirely sure that you have got it — 
that the mortal disease of plenty, and afflictive affluence of 
good things, are all you have to dread? . . . 

There are three Material things, not only useful, but 
essential to Life. No one "knows how to live" till he has 
got them. 

These are, Pure Air, Water, and Earth. 

There are three Immaterial things, not only useful, but 
essential to Life. No one knows how to live till he has got 
them. 

These are, Admiration, Hope, and Love.* 

Admiration — the power of discerning and taking delight 
in what is beautiful in visible Form, and lovely in human 
Character; and, necessarily, striving to produce what is 
beautiful in form, and to become what is lovely in character. 

Hope — the recognition, by true Foresight, of better things 
to be reached hereafter, whether by ourselves or others; 
necessarily issuing in the straightforward and undisappoint- 
able effort to advance, according to our proper power, the 
gaining of them. 

Love, both of family and neighbour, faithful, and satis- 
fied. 

* Cf. Wordsworth, The Excursion, IV, 763: "We live by Admiration, 
Hope, and Love." 



370 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

These are the six chiefly useful things to be got by Politi- 
cal Economy, when it has become a science. I will briefly 
tell you what modern Political Economy — the great "savoir 
mourir" — is doing with them. 

The first three, I said, are Pure Air, Water, and Earth. 

Heaven gives you the main elements of these. You can 
destroy them at your pleasure, or increase, almost without 
limit, the available quantities of them. 

You can vitiate the air by your manner of life, and of 
death, to any extent. You might easily vitiate it so as to 
bring such a pestilence on the globe as would end all of 
you. You, or your fellows, German and French, are at pres- 
ent busy in vitiating it to the best of your power in every 
direction; chiefly at this moment with corpses, and animal 
and vegetable ruin in war: changing men, horses, and 
garden-stuff into noxious gas. But everywhere, and all day 
long, you are vitiating it with foul chemical exhalations; 
and the horrible nests, which you call towns, are little more 
than laboratories for the distillation into heaven of venom- 
ous smokes and smells, mixed with effluvia from decaying 
animal matter, and infectious miasmata from purulent 
disease. 

On the other hand, your power of purifying the air, by 
dealing properly and swiftly with all substances in corrup- 
tion; by absolutely forbidding noxious manufactures; and 
by planting in all soils the trees which cleanse and invig- 
orate earth and atmosphere, — is literally infinite. You might 
make every breath of air you draw, food. 

Secondly, your power over the rain and river-waters of 
the earth is infinite. You can bring rain where you will, by 
planting wisely and tending carefully; — drought where you 
will, by ravage of woods and neglect of the soil. You might 
have the rivers of England as pure as the crystal of the 
rock; beautiful in falls, in lakes, in living pools; so full of 
fish that you might take them out with your hands instead 
of nets. Or you may do always as you have done now, turn 
every river of England into a common sewer, so that you 



THE WHITE-THORN BLOSSOM 371 

cannot so much as baptize an English baby but with filth, 
unless you hold its face out in the rain; and even that falls 
dirty. 

Then for the third, Earth, — meant to be nourishing for 
you, and blossoming. You have learned, about it, that there 
is no such thing as a flower; and as far as your scientific 
hands and scientific brains, inventive of explosive and death- 
ful, instead of blossoming and life-giving, Dust, can con- 
trive, you have turned the Mother-Earth, Demeter, into the 
Avenger-Earth, Tisiphone — with the voice of your brother's 
blood crying out of it, in one wild harmony round all its 
murderous sphere. 

This is what you have done for the three Material Useful 
Things. 

Then for the Three Immaterial Useful Things. For Ad- 
miration, you have learnt contempt and conceit. There is 
no lovely thing ever yet done by man that you care for, 
or can understand; but you are persuaded you are able to 
do much finer things yourselves. You gather, and exhibit 
together, as if equally instructive, what is infinitely bad, 
with what is infinitely good. You do not know which is 
which; you instinctively prefer the Bad, and do more of it. 
You instinctively hate the Good, and destroy it.* 

Then, secondly, for Hope. You have not so much spirit 
of it in you as to begin any plan which will not pay until 
ten years; nor so much intelligence of it in you (either 
politicians or workmen) as to be able to form one clear idea 
of what you would like your country to become. 

* Last night (I am writing this on the 18th of April) I got a letter from 
Venice, bringing me the, I believe, too well-grounded, report that the 
Venetians have requested permission from the government of Italy to 
pull down their Ducal Palace, and "rebuild" it. Put up a horrible 
model of it, in its place, that is to say, for which their architects may 
charge a commission. Meantime, all their canals are choked with 
human dung, which they are too poor to cart away, but throw out at 
their windows. 

And all the great thirteenth-century cathedrals in France have been 
destroyed, within my own memory, only that architects might charge 
commission for putting up false models of them in their place. 
[Ruskin's note.] 



372 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Then, thirdly, for Love. You were ordered by the Founder 
of your religion to love your neighbour as yourselves. 

You have founded an entire Science of Political Economy, 
on what you have stated to be the constant instinct of man 
— the desire to defraud his neighbour. 

And you have driven your women mad, so that they ask 
no more for Love, nor for fellowship with you; but stand 
against you, and ask for "justice." 

Are there any of you who are tired of all this? Any of 
you, Landlords or Tenants? Employers or Workmen? 

Are there any landlords, — any masters, — who would like 
better to be served by men than by iron devils? 

Any tenants, any workmen, who can be true to their 
leaders and to each other? who can vow to work and to 
live faithfully, for the sake of the joy of their homes? 

Will any such give the tenth of what they have, and of 
what they earn, — not to emigrate with, but to stay in Eng- 
land with; and do what is in their hands and hearts to make 
her a happy England? 

I am not rich (as people now estimate riches), and great 
part of what I have is already engaged in maintaining art- 
workmen, or for other objects more or less of public utility. 
The tenth of whatever is left to me, estimated as accurately 
as I can (you shall see the accounts), I will make over to 
you in perpetuity, with the best security that English law 
can give, on Christmas Day of this year, with engagement 
to add the tithe of whatever I earn afterwards. Who else 
will help, with little or much? the object of such fund being, 
to begin, and gradually — no matter how slowly — to increase, 
the buying and securing of land in England, which shall 
not be built upon, but cultivated by Englishmen, with their 
own hands, and such help of force as they can find in wind 
and wave. 

I do not care with how many, or how few, this thing is 
begun, nor on what inconsiderable scale, — if it be but in 
two or three poor men's gardens. So much, at least, I can 
buy, myself, and give them. If no help come, I have done 



THE WHITE-THORN BLOSSOM 373 

and said what I could, and there will be an end. If any help 
come to me, it is to be on the following conditions: — We 
will try to take some small piece of English ground, beauti- 
ful, peaceful, and fruitful. We will have no steam-engines 
upon it, and no railroads; we will have no untended or un- 
thought-of creatures on it; none wretched, but the sick; 
none idle but the dead. We will have no liberty upon it; 
but instant obedience to known law, and appointed per- 
sons: no equality upon it; but recognition of every better- 
ness that we can find, and reprobation of every worseness. 
When we want to go anywhere, we will go there quietly and 
safely, not at forty miles an hour in the risk of our lives; 
when we want to carry anything anywhere, we will carry it 
either on the backs of beasts, or on our own, or in carts, 
or boats; we will have plenty of flowers and vegetables in 
our gardens, plenty of corn and grass in our fields, — and 
few bricks. We will have some music and poetry; the chil- 
dren shall learn to dance to it and sing it; — perhaps some 
of the old people, in time, may also. We will have some art, 
moreover; we will at least try if, like the Greeks, we can't 
make some pots. The Greeks used to paint pictures of gods 
on their pots; we, probably, cannot do as much, but we 
may put some pictures of insects on them, and reptiles; — 
butterflies, and frogs, if nothing better. There was an excel- 
lent old potter in France who used to put frogs and vipers 
into his dishes, to the admiration of mankind; we can surely 
put something nicer than that. Little by little, some higher 
art and imagination may manifest themselves among us; 
and feeble rays of science may dawn for us. Botany, though 
too dull to dispute the existence of flowers; and history, 
though too simple to question the nativity of men; — nay — 
even perhaps an uncalculating and uncovetous wisdom, as 
of rude Magi, presenting, at such nativity, gifts of gold and 
frankincense. 

Faithfully yours, 

John Ruskin 
[Letter 5] 



374 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Charitas 

Denmark Hill, Is* July, 1871. 

My Friends, — It seldom chances, my work lying chiefly 
among stones, clouds, and flowers, that I am brought into 
any freedom of intercourse with my fellow-creatures; but 
since the fighting in Paris* I have dined out several times, 
and spoken to the persons who sat next me, and to others 
when I went upstairs; and done the best I could to find out 
what people thought about the fighting, or thought they 
ought to think about it, or thought they ought to say. I had, 
of course, no hope of finding any one thinking what they 
ought to do. But I have not yet, a little to my surprise, met 
with any one who either appeared to be sadder, or pro- 
fessed himself wiser for anything that has happened. 

It is true that I am neither sadder nor wiser, because 
of it, myself. But then I was so sad before, that nothing 
could make me sadder; and getting wiser has always been 
to me a very slow process (sometimes even quite stopping 
for whole days together), so that if two or three new ideas 
fall in my way at once, it only puzzles me; and the fighting 
in Paris has given me more than two or three. 

The newest of all these new ones, and, in fact, quite 
a glistering and freshly minted idea to me, is the Parisian 
notion of Communism, as far as I understand it (which I 
don't profess to do altogether, yet, or I should be wiser 
than I was, with a vengeance). 

For, indeed, I am myself a Communist of the old school 
— reddest also of the red; and was on the very point of 
saying so at the end of my last letter; only the telegram 
about the Louvre's being on fire stopped me, because I 
thought the Communists of the new school, as I could not 

* On May 25, 1871, troops of the national government occupied Paris 
and, after several days of bloody fighting, subdued the radical forces 
of the Paris Commune. 






CHARITAS 375 

at all understand them, might not quite understand me. 
For we Communists of the old school think that our prop- 
erty belongs to everybody, and everybody's property to 
us; so of course I thought the Louvre belonged to me as 
much as to the Parisians, and expected they would have 
sent word over to me, being an Art Professor, to ask whether 
I wanted it burnt down. But no message or intimation to 
that effect ever reached me. . . . 

Will you be at the pains, now, however, to learn rightly, 
and once for all, what Communism is? First, it means that 
everybody must work in common, and do common or simple 
work for his dinner; and that if any man will not do it, 
he must not have his dinner. . . . The second [law] respects 
property, and it is that the public, or common, wealth, shall 
be more and statelier in all its substance than private or 
singular wealth; that is to say (to come to my own special 
business for a moment) that there shall be only cheap and 
few pictures, if any, in the insides of houses, where nobody 
but the owner can see them; but costly pictures, and many, 
on the outsides of houses, where the people can see them: 
also that the H6tel-de-Ville, or Hotel of the whole Town, 
for the transaction of its common business, shall be a mag- 
nificent building, much rejoiced in by the people, and with 
its tower seen far away through the clear air; but that the 
hotels for private business or pleasure, cafes, taverns, and 
the like, shall be low, few, plain, and in back streets. . . . 
And, finally and chiefly, it is an absolute law of old Com- 
munism that the fortunes of private persons should be small, 
and of little account in the State; but the common treasure 
of the whole nation should be of superb and precious things 
in redundant quantity, as pictures, statues, precious books; 
gold and silver vessels, preserved from ancient times; gold 
and silver bullion laid up for use, in case of any chance 
need of buying anything suddenly from foreign nations; 
noble horses, cattle, and sheep, on the public lands; and vast 
spaces of land for culture, exercise, and garden, round the 



376 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

cities, full of flowers, which, being everybody's property, 
nobody could gather; and of birds which, being everybody's 
property, nobody could shoot. And, in a word, that instead 
of a common poverty, or national debt, which every poor 
person in the nation is taxed annually to fulfil his part of, 
there should be a common wealth, or national reverse of 
debt, consisting of pleasant things, which every poor person 
in the nation should be summoned to receive his dole of, 
annually; and of pretty things, which every person capable 
of admiration, foreigners as well as natives, should un- 
feignedly admire, in an aesthetic, and not a covetous man- 
ner. . . . 

You see, also, that we dark-red Communists, since we 
exist only in giving, must, on the contrary, hate with a per- 
fect hatred all manner of thieving: even to Cceur-de-Lion's 
tar-and-feather extreme;* and of all thieving, we dislike 
thieving on trust most (so that, if we ever get to be strong 
enough to do what we want, and chance to catch hold of 
any failed bankers, their necks will not be worth half-an- 
hour's purchase). So also, as we think virtue diminishes in 
the honour and force of it in proportion to income, we 
think vice increases in the force and shame of it, and is 
worse in kings and rich people than in poor; and worse 
on a large scale than on a narrow one; and worse when 
deliberate than hasty. So that we can understand one man's 
coveting a piece of vineyard-ground for a garden of herbs, 
and stoning the master of it (both of them being Jews); — 
and yet the dogs ate queen's flesh for that, and licked king's 
bloodlf but for two nations — both Christian — to covet their 
neighbours' vineyards, all down beside the River of their 
border, and slay until the River itself runs red! The little 
pool of Samaria! — shall all the snows of the Alps, or the 
salt pool of the Great Sea, wash their armour, for these? 

* In a previous letter Ruskin had cited King Richard's decree that the 
heads of thieves be shaven, covered with molten pitch, and feathered, 
f For the stoning to death of Naboth, and the Lord's vengeance upon 
King Ahab and Jezebel for his murder, see I Kings 21-22 and II Kings 9. 



CHARITAS 377 

I promised . . . that I would tell you the main meaning 
and bearing of the war, and its results to this day: — now 
that you know what Communism is, I can tell you these 
briefly, and, what is more to the purpose, how to bear your- 
self in the midst of them. 

The first reason for all wars, and for the necessity of 
national defences, is that the majority of persons, high and 
low, in all European nations, are Thieves, and, in their 
hearts, greedy of their neighbours' goods, land, and fame. 

But besides being Thieves, they are also fools, and have 
never yet been able to understand that if Cornish men want 
pippins cheap, they must not ravage Devonshire — that the 
prosperity of their neighbours is, in the end, their own also; 
and the poverty of their neighbours, by the communism of 
God, becomes also in the end their own. "Invidia," jealousy 
of your neighbour's good, has been, since dust was first 
made flesh, the curse of man; and "Charitas," the desire 
to do your neighbour grace, the one source of all human 
glory, power, and material Blessing. . . . 

Occult Theft, — Theft which hides itself even from itself, 
and is legal, respectable, and cowardly, — corrupts the body 
and soul of man, to the last fibre of them. And the guilty 
Thieves of Europe, the real sources of all deadly war in it, 
are the Capitalists — that is to say, people who live by per- 
centages on the labour of others; instead of by fair wages 
for their own. The Real war in Europe, of which this fight- 
ing in Paris is the Inauguration, is between these and the 
workman, such as these have made him. They have kept 
him poor, ignorant, and sinful, that they might, without his 
knowledge, gather for themselves the produce of his toil. 
At last, a dim insight into the fact of this dawns on him; 
and such as they have made him he meets them, and will 
meet. . . . 

Ever faithfully yours, 

John Ruskin 
[Letter 7] 



378 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Vol di Nievole 

Pisa, 29th April, 1872. 

My Friends, — You would pity me, if you knew how seldom 
I see a newspaper, just now; but I chanced on one yesterday, 
and found that all the world was astir about the marriage 
of the Marquis of B., and that the Pope had sent him, on 
that occasion, a telegraphic blessing of superfine quality. 

I wonder what the Marquis of B. has done to deserve to 
be blessed to that special extent, and whether a little mild 
beatitude, sent here to Pisa, might not have been better 
spent. For, indeed, before getting hold of the papers, I had 
been greatly troubled, while drawing the east end of the 
Duomo, by three fellows who were leaning against the 
Leaning Tower, and expectorating loudly and copiously, at 
intervals of half a minute each, over the white marble base 
of it, which they evidently conceived to have been con- 
structed only to be spit upon. They were all in rags, and 
obviously proposed to remain in rags all their days, and 
pass what leisure of life they could obtain, in spitting. There 
was a boy with them, in rags also, and not less expectorant, 
but having some remains of human activity in him still 
(being not more than twelve years old); and he was even 
a little interested in my brushes and colours, but rewarded 
himself, after the effort of some attention to these, by re- 
volving slowly round the iron railing in front of me like 
a pensive squirrel. This operation at last disturbed me so 
much, that I asked him if there were no other railings in 
Pisa he could turn upside down over, but these. "Sono 
cascato, Signor — " "I tumbled over them, please, Sir," said 
he, apologetically, with infinite satisfaction in his black eyes. 

Now it seemed to me that these three moist-throated men 
and the squirrelline boy stood much more in need of a 
paternal blessing than the Marquis of B. — a blessing, of 
course, with as much of the bloom off it as would make it 
consistent with the position in which Providence had placed 
them; but enough, in its moderate way, to bring the good 



VAL DI NIEVOLE 379 

out of them instead of the evil. For there was all manner of 
good in them, deep and pure — yet for ever to be dormant; 
and all manner of evil, shallow and superficial, yet for ever 
to be active and practical, as matters stood that day, under 
the Leaning Tower. 

Lucca, 1th May. — Eight days gone, and I've been work- 
ing hard, and looking my carefullest; and seem to have done 
nothing, nor begun to see these places, though I've known 
them thirty years, and though Mr. Murray's Guide says one 
may see Lucca, and its Ducal Palace and Piazza, the Cathe- 
dral, the Baptistery, nine churches, and the Roman amphi- 
theatre, and take a drive round the ramparts, in the time 
between the stopping of one train and the starting of the 
next. 

I wonder how much time Mr. Murray would allow for 
the view I had to-day, from the tower of the Cathedral, up 
the valley called of "Nievole," — now one tufted softness of 
fresh springing leaves, far as the eye can reach. You know 
something of the produce of the hills that bound it, and 
perhaps of its own: at least, one used to see "Fine Lucca 
Oil" often enough in the grocers' windows (petroleum has, 
I suppose, now taken its place), and the staple of Spital- 
fields was, I believe, first woven with Lucca thread. 

The actual manner of production of these good things is 
thus: — The Val di Nievole is some five miles wide by thirty 
long, and is simply one field of corn or rich grass land, un- 
divided by hedges; the corn two feet high, and more, to-day. 
Quite Lord Derby's style of agriculture, you think? No; not 
quite. Undivided by hedges, the fields are yet meshed across 
and across by an intricate network of posts and chains. The 
posts are maple-trees, and the chains, garlands of vine. The 
meshes of this net each enclose two or three acres of the 
cornland, with a row of mulberry-trees up the middle of it, 
for silk. There are poppies, and bright ones too, about the 
banks and roadsides; but the corn of Val di Nievole is too 
proud to grow with poppies, and is set with wild gladiolus 
instead, deep violet. Here and there a mound of crag rises 



380 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

out of the fields, crested with stone-pine, and studded all 
over with the large stars of the white rock-cistus. Quiet 
streams, filled with close crowds of the golden waterflag, 
wind beside meadows painted with purple orchis. On each 
side of the great plain is a wilderness of hills, veiled at their 
feet with a grey cloud of olive woods; above, sweet with 
glades of chestnut; peaks of more distant blue, still, to-day, 
embroidered with snow, are rather to be thought of as vast 
precious stones than mountains, for all the state of the 
world's palaces has been hewn out of their marble. 

I was looking over all this from under the rim of a large 
bell, beautifully embossed, with a St. Sebastian upon it, 
and some lovely thin-edged laurel leaves, and an inscription 
saying that the people should be filled with the fat of the 
land, if they listened to the voice of the Lord. The bell- 
founder of course meant, by the voice of the Lord, the 
sound of his own bell; and all over the plain, one could see 
towers rising above the vines voiced in the same manner. 
Also much trumpeting and fiddling goes on below, to help 
the bells, on holy days; and, assuredly, here is fat enough 
of land to be filled with, if listening to these scrapings and 
tinklings were indeed the way to be filled. 

The laurel leaves on the bell were so finely hammered 
that I felt bound to have a ladder set against the lip of it, 
that I might examine them more closely; and the sacristan 
and bell-ringer were so interested in this proceeding that 
they got up, themselves, on the cross-beams, and sat like 
two jackdaws, looking on, one on each side; for which 
expression of sympathy I was deeply grateful, and offered 
the bell-ringer, on the spot, two bank-notes for tenpence 
each. But they were so rotten with age, and so brittle and 
black with tobacco, that, having unadvisedly folded them 
up small in my purse, the patches on their backs had run 
their corners through them, and they came out tattered like 
so much tinder. The bell-ringer looked at them hopelessly, 
and gave me them back. I promised him some better patched 
ones, and folded the remnants of tinder up carefully, to be 



VAL DI NIEVOLE 381 

kept at Coniston* (where we have still a tenpenceworth or 
so of copper, — though no olive oil) — for specimens of the 
currency of the new Kingdom of Italy. 

Such are the monuments of financial art, attained by a 
nation which has lived in the fattest of lands for at least 
three thousand years, and for the last twelve hundred of 
them has had at least some measure of Christian benedic- 
tion, with help from bell, book, candle, and, recently, even 
from gas. . . . 

Rome, 12th May. — I am writing at the window of a new 
inn, whence I have a view of a large green gas-lamp, and 
of a pond, in rustic rock-work, with four large black ducks 
in it; also of the top of the Pantheon; sundry ruined walls; 
tiled roofs innumerable; and a palace about a quarter of a 
mile long, and the height, as near as I can guess, of Folke- 
stone cliffs under the New Parade; all which I see to ad- 
vantage over a balustrade veneered with an inch of marble 
over four inches of cheap stone, carried by balusters of cast 
iron, painted and sanded, but with the rust coming through, 
— this being the proper modern recipe in Italy for balus- 
trades which may meet the increasing demand of travellers 
for splendour of abode. (By the way, I see I can get a pretty 
little long vignette view of the roof of the Pantheon, and 
some neighbouring churches, through a chink between the 
veneering and the freestone.) 

Standing in this balcony, I am within three hundred 
yards of the greater Church of St. Mary, from which Cas- 
truccio Castracani walked to St. Peter's on 17th January, 
1328, carrying the sword of the German Empire, with which 
he was appointed to gird its Emperor, on his taking posses- 
sion of Rome, by Castruccio's help, in spite of the Pope. 
The Lord of the Val di Nievole wore a dress of superb 
damask silk, doubtless the best that the worms of Lucca 
mulberry-trees could spin; and across his breast an em- 
broidered scroll, inscribed, "He is what God made him," 
* Ruskin's home at Brantwood, on the shore of Coniston Lake. 



382 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

and across his shoulders, behind, another scroll, inscribed, 
"And he shall be what God will make." 

On the 3rd of August, that same year, he recovered 
Pistoja from the Florentines, and rode home to his own 
Lucca in triumph, being then the greatest war-captain in 
Europe, and Lord of Pisa, Pistoja, Lucca, half the coast 
of Genoa, and three hundred fortified castles in the Apen- 
nines; on the 3rd of September he lay dead in Lucca, of 
fever. "Crushed before the moth;" as the silkworms also, 
who were boiled before even they became so much as 
moths, to make his embroidered coat for him. And, humanly 
speaking, because he had worked too hard in the trenches 
of Pistoja, in the dog-days, with his armour on, and with his 
own hands on the mattock, like the good knight he was. 

Nevertheless, his sword was no gift for the King of Italy, 
if the Lucchese had thought better of it. For those three 
hundred castles of his were all Robber-castles, and he, in 
fact, only the chief captain of the three hundred thieves 
who lived in them. In the beginning of his career these 
"towers of the Lunigiana belonged to gentlemen who had 
made brigandage in the mountains, or piracy on the sea, the 
sole occupation of their youth. Castruccio united them 
round him, and called to his little court all the exiles and 
adventurers who were wandering from town to town, in 
search of war or pleasures." 

And, indeed, to Professors of Art, the Apennine between 
Lucca and Pistoja is singularly delightful to this day, be- 
cause of the ruins of these robber-castles on every mound, 
and of the pretty monasteries and arcades of cloister beside 
them. But how little we usually estimate the real relation 
of these picturesque objects! The homes of Baron and 
Clerk, side by side, established on the hills. Underneath, in 
the plain, the peasant driving his oxen. The Baron lives 
by robbing the peasant, and the Clerk by blessing the 
Baron. . . . 

Now then, for Mr. Fawcett: — 

At the 146th page of the edition of his Manual [of Politi- 






VAL DI NIEVOLE 383 

cal Economy], you will find it stated that the interest of 
money consists of three distinct parts: 

1. Reward for abstinence. 

2. Compensation for the risk of loss. 

3. Wages for the labour of superintendence. 

I will reverse this order in examining the statements; for 
the only real question is as to the first, and we had better 
at once clear the other two away from it. 

(3.) Wages for the labour of superintendence. 

By giving the capitalist wages at all, we put him at once 
into the class of labourers, which in my November letter 
I showed you is partly right; but, by Mr. Fawcett's defini- 
tion, and in the broad results of business, he is not a 
labourer. So far as he is one, of course, like any other, he 
is to be paid for his work. There is no question but that the 
partner who superintends any business should be paid for 
superintendence; but the question before us is only respect- 
ing payment for doing nothing. I have, for instance, at this 
moment £15,000 of Bank Stock, and receive £1200 odd, a 
year, from the Bank, but I have never received the slightest 
intimation from the directors that they wished for my as- 
sistance in the superintendence of that establishment; — 
(more shame for them). But even in cases where the partners 
are active, it does not follow that the one who has most 
money in the business is either fittest to superintend it, or 
likely to do so; it is indeed probable that a man who has 
made money already will know how to make more; and it 
is necessary to attach some importance to property as the 
sign of sense: but your business is to choose and pay your 
superintendent for his sense, and not for his money. Which 
is exactly what Mr. Carlyle has been telling you for some 
time; and both he and all his disciples entirely approve of 
interest, if you are indeed prepared to define that term as 
payment for the exercise of common-sense spent in the serv- 
ice of the person who pays for it. I reserve yet awhile, how- 
ever, what is to be said, as hinted in my first letter, about 
the sale of ideas. 



384 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

(2.) Compensation for risk. 

Does Mr. Fawcett mean by "compensation for risk," pro- 
tection from it, or reward for running it? Every business 
involves a certain quantity of risk, which is properly cov- 
ered by every prudent merchant, but he does not expect to 
make a profit out of his risks, nor calculate on a percentage 
on his insurance. If he prefer not to insure, does Professor 
Fawcett mean that his customers ought to compensate him 
for his anxiety; and that while the definition of the first part 
of interest is extra payment for prudence, the definition of 
the second part of interest is extra payment for imprudence? 
Or, does Professor Fawcett mean, what is indeed often the 
fact, that interest for money represents such reward for risk 
as people may get across the green cloth at Homburg or 
Monaco? Because so far as what used to be business is, in 
modern political economy, gambling, Professor Fawcett will 
please to observe that what one gamester gains another loses. 
You cannot get anything out of Nature, or from God, by 
gambling; — only out of your neighbour: and to the quantity 
of interest of money thus gained, you are mathematically to 
oppose a precisely equal dmnterest of somebody else's 
money. 

These second and third reasons for interest then, assigned 
by Professor Fawcett, have evidently nothing whatever to 
do with the question. What I want to know is, why the 
Bank of England is paying me £1200 a year. It certainly 
does not pay me for superintendence. And so far from re- 
ceiving my dividend as compensation for risk, I put my 
money into the bank because I thought it exactly the safest 
place to put it in. But nobody can be more anxious than I 
to find it proper that I should have £1200 a year. Finding 
two of Mr. Fawcett' s reasons fail me utterly, I cling with 
tenacity to the third, and hope the best from it. 

The third, or first, — and now too sorrowfully the last — 
of the Professor's reasons, is this, that my £1200 are given 
me as "the reward of abstinence." It strikes me, upon this, 
that if I had not my £15,000 of Bank Stock I should be a 
good deal more abstinent than I am, and that nobody would 






BENEDICTION 385 

then talk of rewarding me for it. It might be possible to find 
even cases of very prolonged and painful abstinence, for 
which no reward has yet been adjudged by less abstinent 
England. Abstinence may, indeed, have its reward, never- 
theless; but not by increase of what we abstain from, unless 
there be a law of growth for it, unconnected with our ab- 
stinence. "You cannot have your cake and eat it." Of course 
not; and if you don't eat it, you have your cake; but not a 
cake and a half! Imagine the complex trial of schoolboy 
minds, if the law of nature about cakes were, that if you 
ate none of your cake to-day, you would have ever so much 
bigger a cake to-morrow! — which is Mr. Fawcett's notion of 
the law of nature about money; and, alas, many a man's 
beside, — it being no law of nature whatever, but absolutely 
contrary to all her laws, and not to be enacted by the whole 
force of united mankind. 

Not a cake and a quarter to-morrow, dunce, however 
abstinent you are — only the cake you have, — if the mice 
don't get at it in the night. 

Interest, then, is not, it appears, payment for labour; it is 
not reward for risk; it is not reward for abstinence. 

What is it? 

One of two things it is; — taxation, or usury. Of which in 
my next letter. Meantime believe me 

Faithfully yours, 

J. Ruskin 
[Letter 18] 



Benediction 



Venice, 3rd July, 1872. 



My Friends, — You probably thought I had lost my temper, 
and written inconsiderately, when I called the whistling of 
the Lido steamer "accursed." 

I never wrote more considerately; using the longer and 
weaker word "accursed" instead of the simple and proper 



386 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

one, "cursed," to take away, as far as I could, the appear- 
ance of unseemly haste; and using the expression itself on 
set purpose, not merely as the fittest for the occasion, but 
because I have more to tell you respecting the general bene- 
diction engraved on the bell of Lucca, and the particular 
benediction bestowed on the Marquis of B.; several things 
more, indeed, of importance for you to know, about blessing 
and cursing. 

Some of you may perhaps remember the saying of 
St. James about the tongue: "Therewith bless we God, and 
therewith curse we men; out of the same mouth proceedeth 
blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so 
to be." 

It is not clear whether St. James means that there should 
be no cursing at all (which I suppose he does), or merely 
that the blessing and cursing should not be uttered by the 
same lips. But his meaning, whatever it was, did not, in the 
issue, matter; for the Church of Christendom has always 
ignored this text altogether, and appointed the same per- 
sons in authority to deliver, on all needful occasions, bene- 
diction or malediction, as either might appear to them due; 
while our own most learned sect, wielding State power, has 
not only appointed a formal service of malediction in Lent, 
but commanded the Psalms of David, in which the blessing 
and cursing are inlaid as closely as the black and white in 
a mosaic floor, to be solemnly sung through once a month. 

I do not wish, however, to-day to speak to you of the 
practice of the churches; but of your own, which, observe, 
is in one respect singularly different. All the churches, of 
late years, paying less and less attention to the discipline of 
their people, have felt an increasing compunction in cursing 
them when they did wrong; while also, the wrong doing, 
through such neglect of discipline, becoming every day more 
complex, ecclesiastical authorities perceived that, if deliv- 
ered with impartiality, the cursing must be so general, and 
the blessing so defined, as to give their services an entirely 
unpopular character. 



BENEDICTION 387 

Now, there is a little screw steamer just passing, with no 
deck, an omnibus cabin, a flag at both ends, and a single 
passenger; she is not twelve yards long, yet the beating of 
her screw has been so loud across the lagoon for the last five 
minutes, that I thought it must be a large new steamer com- 
ing in from the sea, and left my work to go and look. 

Before I had finished writing that last sentence, the cry 
of a boy selling something black out of a basket on the 
quay became so sharply distinguished above the voices of 
the always debating gondoliers, that I must needs stop 
again, and go down to the quay to see what he had got 
to sell. They were half-rotten figs, shaken down, untimely, 
by the midsummer storms: his cry of "Fighiaie" scarcely 
ceased, being delivered, as I observed, just as clearly be- 
tween his legs, when he was stooping to find an eatable 
portion of the black mess to serve a customer with, as 
when he was standing up. His face brought the tears into 
my eyes, so open, and sweet, and capable it was; and so sad. 
I gave him three very small halfpence, but took no figs, to 
his surprise: he little thought how cheap the sight of him 
and his basket was to me, at the money; nor what this fruit 
"that could not be eaten, it was so evil," sold cheap before 
the palace of the Dukes of Venice, meant, to any one who 
could read signs, either in earth, or her heaven and sea. 

Well, the blessing, as I said, not being now often legiti- 
mately applicable to particular people by Christian priests, 
they gradually fell into the habit of giving it of pure grace 
and courtesy to their congregations; or more especially to 
poor persons, instead of money, or to rich ones, in exchange 
for it, — or generally to any one to whom they wished to be 
polite: while, on the contrary, the cursing, having now be- 
come widely applicable, and even necessary, was left to be 
understood, but not expressed; and at last, to all practical 
purpose, abandoned altogether (the rather that it had be- 
come very disputable whether it ever did any one the least 
mischief); so that, at this time being, the Pope, in his charm- 
ingest manner, blesses the bridecake of the Marquis of B., 



388 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

making, as it were, an ornamental confectionery figure of 
himself on the top of it; but has not, in anywise, courage to 
curse the King of Italy, although that penniless monarch 
has confiscated the revenues of every time-honoured reli- 
gious institution in Italy. . . . 

4th July. 
First, it is necessary that you should understand accurately 
the difference between swearing and cursing, vulgarly so 
often confounded. They are entirely different things: the 
first is invoking the witness of a Spirit to an assertion you 
wish to make; the second is invoking the assistance of a 
Spirit, in a mischief you wish to inflict. When ill-educated 
and ill-tempered people clamorously confuse the two invoca- 
tions, they are not, in reality, either cursing or swearing; but 
merely vomiting empty words indecently. True swearing 
and cursing must always be distinct and solemn; here is an 
old Latin oath, for instance, which, though borrowed from 
a stronger Greek one, and much diluted, is still grand: — 

"/ take to witness the Earth, and the stars, and the sea; 
the two lights of heaven; the falling and rising of the year; 
the dark power of the gods of sorrow; the sacredness of un- 
bending Death; and may the Father of all things hear me, 
who sanctifies covenants with his lightning. For I lay my 
hand on the altar, and by the fires thereon, and the gods to 
whom they burn, I swear that no future day shall break this 
peace for Italy, nor violate the covenant she has made."* 

That is old swearing: but the lengthy forms of it appear- 
ing partly burdensome to the celerity, and partly supersti- 
tious to the wisdom, of modern minds, have been abridged, 
— in England, for the most part, into the extremely simple 
"By God"; in France into "Sacred name of God" (often the 
first word of the sentence only pronounced), and in Italy 
into "Christ" or "Bacchus"; the superiority of the former 
Deity being indicated by omitting the preposition before 
* The oath of Latinus in The Aeneid, XII, 197-202. 



BENEDICTION 389 

the name. The oaths are "Christ," — never "by Christ"; and 
"by Bacchus," — never "Bacchus." 

Observe also that swearing is only by extremely ignorant 
persons supposed to be an infringement of the Third Com- 
mandment. It is disobedience to the teaching of Christ; but 
the Third Commandment has nothing to do with the mat- 
ter. People do not take the name of God in vain when they 
swear; they use it, on the contrary, very earnestly and ener- 
getically to attest what they wish to say. But when the Mon- 
ster Concert at Boston* begins, on the English day, with 
the hymn, "The will of God be done," while the audience 
know perfectly well that there is not one in a thousand of 
them who is trying to do it, or who would have it done if he 
could help it, unless it was his own will too, — that is taking 
the name of God in vain, with a vengeance. 

Cursing, on the other hand, is invoking the aid of a Spirit 
to a harm you wish to see accomplished, but which is too 
great for your own immediate power: and to-day I wish to 
point out to you what intensity of faith in the existence and 
activity of a spiritual world is evinced by the curse which 
is characteristic of the English tongue. 

For, observe, habitual as it has become, there is still so 
much life and sincerity in the expression, that we all feel 
our passion partly appeased in its use; and the more serious 
the occasion, the more practical and effective the cursing 
becomes. In Mr. Kinglake's History of the Crimean War, 
you will find the — th Regiment at Alma is stated to have 
been materially assisted in maintaining position quite vital 
to the battle by the steady imprecation delivered at it by 
its colonel for half-an-hour on end. No quantity of bene- 
diction would have answered the purpose; the colonel might 
have said, "Bless you, my children," in the tenderest tones, 
as often as he pleased, — yet not have helped his men to 
keep their ground. 

I want you therefore, first, to consider how it happens 

* A musical festival and International Peace Jubilee held at Boston in 
June 1872. 



390 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

that cursing seems at present the most effectual means for 
encouraging human work; and whether it may not be con- 
ceivable that the work itself is of a kind which any form 
of effectual blessing would hinder instead of help. Then, 
secondly, I want you to consider what faith in a spiritual 
world is involved in the terms of the curse we usually em- 
ploy. It has two principal forms: one complete and un- 
qualified, "God damn your soul," implying that the soul is 
there, and that we cannot be satisfied with less than its de- 
struction; the other, qualified, and on the bodily members 
only, "God damn your eyes and limbs." It is this last form 
I wish especially to examine. 

For how do you suppose that either eye, or ear, or limb, 
can be damned? What is the spiritual mischief you invoke? 
Not merely the blinding of the eye, nor palsy of the 
limb; but the condemnation or judgment of them. And 
remember that though you are for the most part uncon- 
scious of the spiritual meaning of what you say, the in- 
stinctive satisfaction you have in saying it is as much a real 
movement of the spirit within you, as the beating of your 
heart is a real movement of the body, though you are un- 
conscious of that also, till you put your hand on it. Put 
your hand also, so to speak, upon the source of the satis- 
faction with which you use this curse; and ascertain the 
law of it. 

Now this you may best do by considering what it is which 
will make the eyes and the limbs blessed. For the precise 
contrary of that must be their damnation. What do you 
think was the meaning of that saying of Christ's, "Blessed 
are the eyes which see the things that ye see"? For to be 
made evermore incapable of seeing such things, must be the 
condemnation of the eyes. It is not merely the capacity of 
seeing sunshine, which is their blessing; but of seeing certain 
things under the sunshine; nay, perhaps, even without sun- 
shine, the eye itself becoming a Sun. Therefore, on the other 
hand, the curse upon the eyes will not be mere blindness 






BENEDICTION 391 

to the daylight, but blindness to particular things under the 
daylight; so that, when directed towards these, the eye itself 
becomes as the Night. 

Again, with regard to the limbs, or general powers of the 
body. Do you suppose that when it is promised that "the 
lame man shall leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb 
sing" — (Steam-whistle interrupts me from the Capo d'Istria, 
which is lying in front of my window with her black nose 
pointed at the red nose of another steamer at the next pier. 
There are nine large ones at this instant, — half-past six, 
morning, 4th July, — lying between the Church of the Re- 
deemer and the Canal of the Arsenal; one of them an iron- 
clad, five smoking fiercely, and the biggest, — English and 
half a quarter of a mile long, — blowing steam from all man- 
ner of pipes in her sides, and with such a roar through her 
funnel — whistle number two from Capo d'Istria — that I 
could not make any one hear me speak in this room without 
an effort), — do you suppose, I say, that such a form of bene- 
diction is just the same as saying that the lame man shall 
leap as a lion, and the tongue of the dumb mourn? Not so, 
but a special manner of action of the members is meant in 
both cases: (whistle number three from Capo d'Istria; I am 
writing on, steadily, so that you will be able to form an 
accurate idea, from this page, of the intervals of time in 
modern music. The roaring from the English boat goes on 
all the while, for bass to the Capo d'Istria's treble, and a 
tenth steamer comes in sight round the Armenian Monas- 
tery) — a particular kind of activity is meant, I repeat, in 
both cases. The lame man is to leap, (whistle fourth from 
Capo d'Istria, this time at high pressure, going through my 
head like a knife) as an innocent and joyful creature leaps, 
and the lips of the dumb to move melodiously: they are to 
be blest, so; may not be unblest even in silence; but are 
the absolute contrary of blest, in evil utterance. (Fifth 
whistle, a double one, from Capo d'Istria, and it is seven 
o'clock, nearly; and here's my coffee, and I must stop writ- 



392 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

ing. Sixth whistle — the Capo d'Istria is off, with her crew 
of morning bathers. Seventh, — from I don't know which of 
the boats outside — and I count no more.) 

bth July. 

Yesterday, in these broken sentences, I tried to make you 
understand that for all human creatures there are neces- 
sarily three separate states: life positive, under blessing, — 
life negative, under curse, — and death, neutral between 
these; and, henceforward, take due note of the quite true 
assumption you make in your ordinary malediction, that 
the state of condemnation may begin in this world, and 
separately affect every living member of the body. 

You assume the fact of these two opposite states, then; 
but you have no idea whatever of the meaning of your 
words, nor of the nature of the blessedness or condemnation 
you admit. I will try to make your conception clearer. 

In the year 1869, just before leaving Venice, I had been 
carefully looking at a picture by Victor Carpaccio, repre- 
senting the dream of a young princess. Carpaccio has taken 
much pains to explain to us, as far as he can, the kind of life 
she leads, by completely painting her little bedroom in the 
light of dawn, so that you can see everything in it. It is 
lighted by two doubly-arched windows, the arches being 
painted crimson round their edges, and the capitals of the 
shafts that bear them, gilded. They are filled at the top with 
small round panes of glass; but beneath, are open to the 
blue morning sky, with a low lattice across them: and in 
the one at the back of the room are set two beautiful white 
Greek cases with a plant in each; one having rich dark and 
pointed green leaves, the other crimson flowers, but not of 
any species known to me, each at the end of a branch like a 
spray of heath. 

These flower-pots stand on a shelf which runs all round 
the room, and beneath the window, at about the height of 
the elbow, and serves to put things on anywhere: beneath 
it, down to the floor, the walls are covered with green 



BENEDICTION 393 

cloth; but above, are bare and white. The second window 
is nearly opposite the bed, and in front of it is the princess's 
reading-table, some two feet and a half square, covered by a 
red cloth with a white border and dainty fringe; and beside 
it her seat, not at all like a reading-chair in Oxford, but a 
very small three-legged stool like a music-stool, covered with 
crimson cloth. On the table are a book set up at a slope 
fittest for reading, and an hour-glass. Under the shelf, near 
the table, so as to be easily reached by the outstretched arm, 
is a press full of books. The door of this has been left open, 
and the books, I am grieved to say, are rather in disorder, 
having been pulled about before the princess went to bed, 
and one left standing on its side. 

Opposite this window, on the white wall, is a small shrine 
or picture (I can't see which, for it is in sharp retiring per- 
spective) with a lamp before it, and a silver vessel hung 
from the lamp, looking like one for holding incense. 

The bed is a broad four-poster, the posts being beauti- 
fully wrought golden or gilded rods, variously wreathed 
and branched, carrying a canopy of warm red. The prin- 
cess's shield is at the head of it, and the feet are raised 
entirely above the floor of the room, on a dais which pro- 
jects at the lower end so as to form a seat, on which the 
child has laid her crown. Her little blue slippers lie at the 
side of the bed, — her white dog beside them. The coverlid 
is scarlet, the white sheet folded half-way back over it; the 
young girl lies straight, bending neither at waist nor knee, 
the sheet rising and falling over her in a narrow unbroken 
wave, like the shape of the coverlid of the last sleep, when 
the turf scarcely rises. She is some seventeen or eighteen 
years old, her head is turned towards us on the pillow, the 
cheek resting on her hand, as if she were thinking, yet 
utterly calm in sleep, and almost colourless. Her hair is tied 
with a narrow riband, and divided into two wreaths, which 
encircle her head like a double crown. The white night- 
gown hides the arm raised on the pillow, down to the wrist. 

At the door of the room an angel enters (the little dog, 



394 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

though lying awake, vigilant, takes no notice). He is a very 
small angel, his head just rises a little above the shelf round 
the room, and would only reach as high as the princess's 
chin, if she were standing up. He has soft grey wings, lustre- 
less; and his dress, of subdued blue, has violet sleeves, open 
above the elbow, and showing white sleeves below. He 
comes in without haste, his body, like a mortal one, casting 
shadow from the light through the door behind, his face 
perfectly quiet; a palm-branch in his right hand — a scroll 
in his left. 

So dreams the princess, with blessed eyes, that need no 
earthly dawn. It is very pretty of Carpaccio to make her 
dream out the angel's dress so particularly, and notice the 
slashed sleeves; and to dream so little an angel — very nearly 
a doll angel, — bringing her the branch of palm, and mes- 
sage. But the lovely characteristic of all is the evident delight 
of her continual life. Royal power over herself, and happi- 
ness in her flowers, her books, her sleeping, and waking, 
her prayers, her dreams, her earth, her heaven. 

After I had spent my morning over this picture, I had 
to go to Verona by the afternoon train. In the carriage 
with me were two American girls with their father and 
mother, people of the class which has lately made so much 
money, suddenly, and does not know what to do with it: 
and these two girls, of about fifteen and eighteen, had evi- 
dently been indulged in everything (since they had had the 
means) which western civilization could imagine. And here 
they were, specimens of the utmost which the money and 
invention of the nineteenth century could produce in maid- 
enhood, — children of its most progressive race, — enjoying 
the full advantages of political liberty, of enlightened philo- 
sophical education, of cheap pilfered literature, and of lux- 
ury at any cost. Whatever money, machinery, or freedom of 
thought could do for these two children, had been done. 
No superstition had deceived, no restraint degraded them: 
— types, they could not but be, of maidenly wisdom and 
felicity, as conceived by the forwardest intellects of our time. 

And they were travelling through a district which, if any 



BENEDICTION 395 

of the world, should touch the hearts and delight the eyes 
of young girls. Between Venice and Verona! Portia's villa 
perhaps in sight upon the Brenta, Juliet's tomb to be visited 
in the evening, — blue against the southern sky, the hills of 
Petrarch's home. Exquisite midsummer sunshine, with low 
rays, glanced through the vine-leaves; all the Alps were 
clear, from the Lake of Garda to Cadore, and to farthest 
Tyrol. What a princess's chamber, this, if these are prin- 
cesses, and what dreams might they not dream, therein! 

But the two American girls were neither princesses, nor 
seers, nor dreamers. By infinite self-indulgence, they had 
reduced themselves simply to two pieces of white putty that 
could feel pain. The flies and the dust stuck to them as to 
clay, and they perceived, between Venice and Verona, noth- 
ing but the flies and the dust. They pulled down the blinds 
the moment they entered the carriage, and then sprawled, 
and writhed, and tossed among the cushions of it, in vain 
contest, during the whole fifty miles, with every miserable 
sensation of bodily affliction that could make time intolera- 
ble. They were dressed in thin white frocks, coming vaguely 
open at the backs as they stretched or wriggled; they had 
French novels, lemons, and lumps of sugar, to beguile their 
state with; the novels hanging together by the ends of string 
that had once stitched them, or adhering at the corners in 
densely bruised dog's-ears, out of which the girls, wetting 
their fingers, occasionally extricated a gluey leaf. From time 
to time they cut a lemon open, ground a lump of sugar 
backwards and forwards over it till every fibre was in a 
treacly pulp; then sucked the pulp, and gnawed the white 
skin into leathery strings for the sake of its bitter. Only one 
sentence was exchanged, in the fifty miles, on the subject 
of things outside the carriage (the Alps being once visible 
from a station where they had drawn up the blinds). 

"Don't those snow-caps make you cool?" 

"No — I wish they did." 

And so they went their way, with sealed eyes and tor- 
mented limbs, their numbered miles of pain. 

There are the two states for you, in clearest opposition; 



396 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Blessed, and Accursed. The happy industry, and eyes full 
of sacred imagination of things that are not (such sweet 
cosa e la fede), and the tortured indolence, and infidel eyes, 
blind even to the things that are. 

"How do I know the princess is industrious?" 

Partly by the trim state of her room, — by the hour-glass 
on the table, — by the evident use of all the books she has 
(well bound, every one of them, in stoutest leather or velvet, 
and with no dog's-ear), but more distinctly from another 
picture of her, not asleep. In that one, a prince of England 
has sent to ask her in marriage: and her father, little liking 
to part with her, sends for her to his room to ask her what 
she would do. He sits, moody and sorrowful; she, standing 
before him in a plain housewifely dress, talks quietly, going 
on with her needlework all the time. 

A work- woman, friends, she, no less than a princess; and 
princess most in being so. In like manner, in a picture by 
a Florentine, whose mind I would fain have you know some- 
what, as well as Carpaccio's — Sandro Botticelli — the girl 
who is to be the wife of Moses, when he first sees her at the 
desert-well, has fruit in her left hand, but a distaff in her 
right. 

"To do good work, whether you live or die," it is the 
entrance to all Princedoms; and if not done, the day will 
come, and that infallibly, when you must labour for evil 
instead of good. 

It was some comfort to me, that second of May last, at 
Pisa, to watch the workman's ashamed face, as he struck 
the old marble cross to pieces. Stolidly and languidly he 
dealt the blows, — down-looking, — so far as in anywise sensi- 
tive, ashamed, — and well he might be. 

It was a wonderful thing to see done. This Pisan chapel, 
first built in 1230, then called the Oracle, or Oratory, — 
"Oraculum, vel Oratorium" — of the Blessed Mary of the 
New Bridge, afterwards called the Sea-bridge (Ponte-a- 
Mare), was a shrine like that of ours on the Bridge of Wake- 
field; a boatman's praying-place: you may still see, or might, 



BENEDICTION 397 

ten years since, have seen, the use of such a thing at the 
mouth of Boulogne Harbour, when the mackerel boats went 
out in a fleet at early dawn. There used to be a little shrine 
at the end of the longest pier; and as the Bonne Esperance, 
or Grdce-de-Dieu or Vierge Marie, or Notre Dame des 
Dunes, or Reine des Anges, rose on the first surge of the 
open sea, their crews bared their heads, and prayed for a 
few seconds. So also the Pisan oarsmen looked back to their 
shrine, many-pinnacled, standing out from the quay above 
the river, as they dropped down Arno under their sea- 
bridge, bound for the Isles of Greece. Later, in the fifteenth 
century, "there was laid up in it a little branch of the 
Crown of Thorns of the Redeemer, which a merchant had 
brought home, enclosed in a little urn of Beyond-sea" (ultra- 
marine), and its name was changed to "St. Mary's of the 
Thorn." 

In the year 1840 I first drew it, then as perfect as when it 
was built. Six hundred and ten years had only given the 
marble of it a tempered glow, or touched its sculpture here 
and there with softer shade. I daguerreo typed the eastern 
end of it some years later (photography being then un- 
known), and copied the daguerreotype, that people might 
not be plagued in looking, by the lustre. The frontispiece to 
this letter is engraved from the drawing, and will show you 
what the building was like. 

But the last quarter of a century has brought changes, 
and made the Italians wiser. British Protestant missionaries 
explained to them that they had only got a piece of black- 
berry stem in their ultramarine box. German philosophical 
missionaries explained to them that the Crown of Thorns 
itself was only a graceful metaphor. French republican mis- 
sionaries explained to them that chapels were inconsistent 
with liberty on the quay; and their own Engineering mis- 
sionaries of civilization explained to them that steam-power 
was independent of the Madonna. And now in 1872, rowing 
by steam, digging by steam, driving by steam, here, behold, 
are a troublesome pair of human arms out of employ. So 



398 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

the Engineering misisonaries fit them with hammer and 
chisel, and set them to break up the Spina Chapel. 

A costly kind of stone-breaking, this, for Italian parishes 
to set paupers on! Are there not rocks enough of Apennine, 
think you, they could break down instead? For truly, the 
God of their Fathers, and of their land, would rather see 
them mar His own work, than His children's. 

Believe me, faithfully yours, 

John Ruskin 
[Letter 20] 

The Squirrel Cage: English Servitude 

Rome, 6th June, 1874. 

The poor Campagna herdsman, whose seeking for St. Paul's 
statue the Professor of Fine Art in the University of Oxford 
so disgracefully failed to assist him in,* had been kneeling 
nearer the line of procession of the Corpus Domini than I; 
— in fact, quite among the rose-leaves which had been 
strewed for a carpet round the aisles of the Basilica. I grieve 
to say that I was shy of the rose-bestrewn path, myself; for 
the crowd waiting at the side of it had mixed up the rose- 
leaves with spittle so richly as to make quite a pink poma- 
tum of them. And, indeed, the living temples of the Holy 
Ghost which in any manner bestir themselves here among 
the temples, — whether of Roman gods or Christian saints, 
— have merely and simply the two great operations upon 
them of filling their innermost adyta with dung, and mak- 
ing their pavements slippery with spittle; the Pope's new 
tobacco manufactory under the Palatine, — an infinitely 
more important object now, in all views of Rome from the 
west, than either the Palatine or the Capital, — greatly aid- 

* An allusion to the previous Letter, in which Ruskin, in answer to 
the peasant's question, had guided him to the presumed site of 
St. Paul's grave, rather than to the saint's statue. 



ENGLISH SERVITUDE 399 

ing and encouraging this especial form of lustration: while 
the still more ancient documents of Egyptian religion — the 
obelisks of the Piazza del Popolo, and of the portico of 
St. Peter's — are entirely eclipsed by the obelisks of our 
English religion, lately elevated, in full view from the Pin- 
cian and the Montorio, with smoke coming out of the top 
of them. And farther, the entire eastern district of Rome, 
between the two Basilicas of the Lateran and St. Lorenzo, 
is now one mass of volcanic ruin; — a desert of dust and 
ashes, the lust of wealth exploding there, out of a crater 
deeper than Etna's, and raging, as far as it can reach, in one 
frantic desolation of whatever is lovely, or holy, or memora- 
ble, in the central city of the world. 

For there is one fixed idea in the mind of every European 
progressive politician, at this time; namely, that by a certain 
application of Financial Art, and by the erection of a certain 
quantity of new buildings on a colossal scale, it will be pos- 
sible for society hereafter to pass its entire life in eating, 
smoking, harlotry, and talk; without doing anything what- 
ever with its hands or feet of a laborious character. . . . 

And now examine the facts about England in this broad 
light. 

She has a vast quantity of ground still food-producing, 
in corn, grass, cattle, or game. With that territory she edu- 
cates her squire, or typical gentleman, and his tenantry, 
to whom, together, she owes all her power in the world. 
With another large portion of territory, — now continually 
on the increase, — she educates a mercenary population, 
ready to produce any quantity of bad articles to anybody's 
order; population which every hour that passes over them 
makes acceleratingly avaricious, immoral, and insane. In 
the increase of that kind of territory and its people, her 
ruin is just as certain as if she were deliberately exchanging 
her corn-growing land, and her heaven above it, for a soil 
of arsenic, and rain of nitric acid. 

"Have the Arkwrights and Stephensons, then, done noth- 
ing but harm?" Nothing; but the root of all the mischief is 



400 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

not in Arkwrights or Stephensons; nor in rogues or me- 
chanics. The real root of it is the crime of the squire him- 
self. And the method of that crime is thus. A certain quan- 
tity of the food produced by the country is paid annually 
by it into the squire's hand, in the form of rent, privately, 
and taxes, publicly. If he uses this food to support a food- 
producing population, he increases daily the strength of the 
country and his own; but if he uses it to support an idle 
population, or one producing merely trinkets in iron, or 
gold, or other rubbish, he steadily weakens the country, and 
debases himself. 

Now the action of the squire for the last fifty years has 
been, broadly, to take the food from the ground of his 
estate, and carry it to London, where he feeds with it a vast 
number of builders, upholsterers (one of them charged me 
five pounds for a footstool the other day), carriage and 
harness makers, dress-makers, grooms, footmen, bad musi- 
cians, bad painters, gamblers, and harlots, and in supply of 
the wants of these main classes, a vast number of shop- 
keepers of minor useless articles. The muscles and the time 
of this enormous population being wholly unproductive 
— (for of course time spent in the mere process of sale is 
unproductive, and much more that of the footman and 
groom, while that of the vulgar upholsterer, jeweller, fid- 
dler, and painter, etc., etc., is not only unproductive, but 
mischievous), — the entire mass of this London population 
do nothing whatever either to feed or clothe themselves; and 
their vile life preventing them from all rational entertain- 
ment, they are compelled to seek some pastime in a vile 
literature, the demand for which again occupies another 
enormous class, who do nothing to feed or dress themselves; 
finally, the vain disputes of this vicious population give em- 
ployment to the vast industry of the lawyers and their clerks, 
who similarly do nothing to feed or dress themselves. 

Now the peasants might still be able to supply this enor- 
mous town population with food (in the form of the squire's 
rent), but it cannot, without machinery, supply the flimsy 



ENGLISH SERVITUDE 401 

dresses, toys, metal work, and other rubbish, belonging to 
their accursed life. Hence over the whole country the sky is 
blackened and the air made pestilent, to supply London 
and other such towns with their iron railings, vulgar up- 
holstery, jewels, toys, liveries, lace, and other means of 
dissipation and dishonour of life. Gradually the country peo- 
ple cannot even supply food to the voracity of the vicious 
centre; and it is necessary to import food from other coun- 
tries, giving in exchange any kind of commodity we can 
attract their itching desires for, and produce by machinery. 
The tendency of the entire national energy is therefore 
to approximate more and more to the state of a squirrel in 
a cage, or a turnspit in a wheel, fed by foreign masters with 
nuts and dog's meat. And indeed, when we rightly conceive 
the relation of London to the country, the sight of it be- 
comes more fantastic and wonderful than any dream. Hyde 
Park, in the season, is the great rotatory form of the vast 
squirrel-cage; round and round it go the idle company, in 
their reversed streams, urging themselves to their neces- 
sary exercise. They cannot with safety even eat their nuts, 
without so much "revolution" as shall, in Venetian lan- 
guage, "comply with the demands of hygiene." Then they 
retire into their boxes, with due quantity of straw; the Bel- 
gravian and Piccadillian streets outside the railings being, 
when one sees clearly, nothing but the squirrel's box at the 
side of his wires. And then think of all the rest of the 
metropolis as the creation and ordinance of these squirrels, 
that they may squeak and whirl to their satisfaction, and yet 
be fed. Measure the space of its entirely miserable life. Begin 
with that diagonal which I struck from Regent Circus to 
Drury Lane; examine it, house by house; then go up from 
Drury Lane to St. Giles' Church, look into Church Lane 
there, and explore your Seven Dials and Warwick Street; 
and remember this is the very centre of the mother city, — 
precisely between its Parks, its great Library and Museum, 
its principal Theatres, and its Bank. Then conceive the 
East-end; and the melancholy Islington and Pentonville dis- 






402 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

tricts; then the ghastly spaces of southern suburb — Vaux- 
hall, Lambeth, the Borough, Wapping, and Bermondsey. 
All this is the nidification of those Park Squirrels. This is 
the thing they have produced round themselves; this their 
work in the world. When they rest from their squirrellian 
revolutions, and die in the Lord, and their works do follow 
them, these are what will follow them. Lugubrious march of 
the Waterloo Road, and the Borough, and St. Giles's; the 
shadows of all the Seven Dials having fetched their last com- 
pass. New Jerusalem, prepared as a bride, of course, opening 
her gates to them; — but, pertinaciously attendant, Old 
Jewry outside. "Their works do follow them." 

For these streets are indeed what they have built; their 
inhabitants the people they have chosen to educate. They 
took the bread and milk and meat from the people of their 
fields; they gave it to feed, and retain here in their service, 
this fermenting mass of unhappy human beings, — news- 
mongers, novel-mongers, picture-mongers, poison-drink- 
mongers, lust and death-mongers; the whole smoking mass 
of it one vast dead-marine storeshop, — accumulation of 
wreck of the Dead Sea, with every activity in it, a form of 
putrefaction. . . . [Letter 44] 

The Advent Collect 

The accounts of the state of St. George's Fund, given with- 
out any inconvenience in crowding type, on the last leaf 
of this number of Fors, will, I hope, be as satisfactory to 
my subscribers as they are to me. In these days of financial 
operation, the subscribers to anything may surely be con- 
tent when they find that all their talents have been laid up 
in the softest of napkins; and even farther, that, though 
they are getting no interest themselves, that lichenous 
growth of vegetable gold, or mould, is duly developing itself 
on their capital. 

The amount of subscriptions received, during the four 



THE ADVENT COLLECT 403 

years of my mendicancy, might have disappointed me, if, 
in my own mind, I had made any appointments on the 
subject, or had benevolence pungent enough to make me fret 
at the delay in the commencement of the national felicity 
which I propose to bestow. On the contrary, I am only too 
happy to continue amusing myself in my study, with stones 
and pictures; and find, as I grow old, that I remain resigned 
to the consciousness of any quantity of surrounding vice, 
distress and disease, provided only the sun shine in at my 
window over Corpus Garden, and there are no whistles from 
the luggage trains passing the Waterworks. 

I understand this state of even temper to be what most 
people call "rational"; and, indeed, it has been the result 
of very steady effort on my own part to keep myself, if it 
might be, out of Hanwell, or that other Hospital which 
makes the name of Christ's native village dreadful in the ear 
of London. For, having long observed that the most perilous 
beginning of trustworthy qualification for either of those 
establishments consisted in an exaggerated sense of self-im- 
portance; and being daily compelled, of late, to value my 
own person and opinions at a higher and higher rate, in 
proportion to my extending experience of the rarity of any 
similar creatures or ideas among mankind, it seemed to me 
expedient to correct this increasing conviction of my supe- 
rior wisdom, by companionship with pictures I could not 
copy, and stones I could not understand: — while, that this 
wholesome seclusion may remain only self-imposed, I think 
it not a little fortunate for me that the few relations I have 
left are generally rather fond of me; — don't know clearly 
which is the next of kin, — and perceive that the administra- 
tion of my inconsiderable effects would be rather trouble- 
some than profitable to them. Not in the least, therefore, 
wondering at the shyness of my readers to trust me with 
money of theirs, I have made, during these four years past, 
some few experiments with money of my own, — in hopes of 
being able to give such account of them as might justify a 
more extended confidence. I am bound to state that the 



404 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

results, for the present, are not altogether encouraging. On 
my own little piece of mountain ground at Coniston I grow 
a large quantity of wood-hyacinths and heather, without any 
expense worth mentioning; but my only industrious ag- 
ricultural operations have been the getting three-pounds- 
ten worth of hay, off a field for which I pay six pounds 
rent; and the surrounding with a costly wall six feet high, 
to keep out rabbits, a kitchen garden, which, being terraced 
and trim, my neighbours say is pretty; and which will 
probably, every third year, when the weather is not wet, 
supply me with a dish of strawberries. 

At Carshalton, in Surrey, I have indeed had the satisfac- 
tion of cleaning out one of the springs of the Wandel, and 
making it pleasantly habitable by trout; but find that the 
fountain, instead of taking care of itself when once pure, 
as I expected it to do, requires continual looking after, 
like a child getting into a mess; and involves me besides in 
continual debate with the surveyors of the parish, who in- 
sist on letting all the road-washings run into it. For the 
present, however, I persevere, at Carshalton, against the 
wilfulness of the spring and the carelessness of the parish; 
and hope to conquer both: but I have been obliged entirely 
to abandon a notion I had of exhibiting ideally clean street 
pavement in the centre of London, — in the pleasant en- 
virons of Church Lane, St. Giles's. There I had every help 
and encouragement from the authorities; and hoped, with 
the staff of two men and a young rogue of a crossing- 
sweeper, added to the regular force of the parish, to keep 
a quarter of a mile square of the narrow streets without 
leaving so much as a bit of orange-peel on the footway, or 
an eggshell in the gutters. I failed, partly because I chose 
too difficult a district to begin with (the contributions of 
transitional mud being constant, and the inhabitants pas- 
sive) , but chiefly because I could no more be on the spot 
myself, to give spirit to the men, when I left Denmark Hill 
for Coniston. 

I next set up a tea-shop at 29, Paddington Street W. (an 



THE ADVENT COLLECT 405 

establishment which my Fors readers may as well know of), 
to supply the poor in that neighbourhood with pure tea, in 
packets as small as they chose to buy, without making a 
profit on the subdivision, — larger orders being of course 
equally acceptable from anybody who cares to promote 
honest dealing. The result of this experiment has been my 
ascertaining that the poor only like to buy their tea where 
it is brilliantly lighted and eloquently ticketed; and as I 
resolutely refuse to compete with my neighbouring trades- 
men either in gas or rhetoric, the patient subdivision of my 
parcels by the two old servants of my mother's, who manage 
the business for me, hitherto passes little recognized as an 
advantage by my uncalculating public. Also, steady increase 
in the consumption of spirits throughout the neighbour- 
hood faster and faster slackens the demand for tea; but I 
believe none of these circumstances have checked my trade 
so much as my own procrastination in painting my sign. 
Owing to that total want of imagination and invention 
which makes me so impartial and so accurate a writer on 
subjects of political economy, I could not for months de- 
termine whether the said sign should be of a Chinese char- 
acter, black upon gold; or of a Japanese, blue upon white; 
or of pleasant English, rose colour on green; and still less 
how far legible scale of letters could be compatible, on a 
board only a foot broad, with lengthy enough elucidation 
of the peculiar offices of "Mr. Ruskin's tea-shop." Mean- 
while the business languishes, and the rent and taxes absorb 
the profits, and something more, after the salary of my good 
servants has been paid. 

In all these cases, however, I can see that I am defeated 
only because I have too many things on hand: and that 
neither rabbits at Coniston, road-surveyors at Croydon, or 
mud in St. Giles's would get the better of me, if I could give 
exclusive attention to any one business: meantime, I learn 
the difficulties which are to be met, and shall make the fewer 
mistakes when I venture on any work with other people's 
money. 



406 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

I may as well, together with these confessions, print a 
piece written for the end of a Fors letter at Assisi, a month 
or two back, but for which I had then no room, referring 
to the increase of commercial, religious, and egotistic in- 
sanity, in modern society, and delicacy of the distinction 
implied by that long wall at Hanwell, between the persons 
inside it, and out. 

"Does it never occur to me'* (thus the letter went on) 
"that I may be mad myself?" 

Well, I am so alone now in my thoughts and ways that 
if I am not mad, I should soon become so, from mere 
solitude, but for my work. But it must be manual work. 
Whenever I suceed in a drawing, I am happy, in spite of 
all that surrounds me of sorrow. It is a strange feeling; — 
not gratified vanity: I can have any quantity of praise I 
like from some sorts of people; but that does me no vital 
good (though dispraise does me mortal harm); whereas to 
succeed to my own satisfaction in a manual piece of work, 
is life, — to me, as to all men; and it is only the peace 
which comes necessarily from manual labour which in all 
time has kept the honest country people patient in their 
task of maintaining the rascals who live in towns. But we 
are in hard times, now, for all men's wits; for men who 
know the truth are like to go mad from isolation; and the 
fools are all going mad in "Schwarmerei,"* — only that is 
much the pleasanter way. Mr. Lecky, for instance, quoted 
in last Fors; how pleasant for him to think he is ever so 
much wiser than Aristotle; and that, as a body, the men of 
his generation are the wisest that ever were born — giants 
of intellect, according to Lord Macaulay, compared to the 
pigmies of Bacon's time, and the minor pigmies of Christ's 
time, and the minutest of all, the microscopic pigmies of 
Solomon's time, and, finally, the vermicular and infusorial 
pigmies — twenty-three millions to the cube inch — of Mr. 
Darwin's time, whatever that may be! How pleasant for 

* Ruskin uses the word in Carlyle's sense of fanatical enthusiasms 
blindly shared by the masses. 



THE ADVENT COLLECT 407 

Mr. Lecky to live in these days of the Anakim, — "his 
spear, to equal which, the tallest pine,"* etc., etc., which 
no man Stratford-born could have lifted, much less shaken! 

But for us of the old race — few of us now left, — children 
who reverence our fathers, and are ashamed of ourselves; 
comfortless enough in that shame, and yearning for one 
word or glance from the graves of old, yet knowing our- 
selves to be of the same blood, and recognizing in our 
hearts the same passions, with the ancient masters of hu- 
manity; — we, who feel as men, and not as carnivorous 
worms; we, who are every day recognizing some inaccessible 
height of thought and power, and are miserable in our 
shortcomings, — the few of us now standing here and there, 
alone, in the midst of this yelping, carnivorous crowd, mad 
for money and lust, tearing each other to pieces, and starv- 
ing each other to death, and leaving heaps of their dung 
and ponds of their spittle on every palace floor and altar 
stone, — it is impossible for us, except in the labour of our 
hands, not to go mad. 

And the danger is tenfold greater for a man in my own 
position, concerned with the arts which develop the more 
subtle brain sensations; and, through them, tormented all 
day long. Mr. Leslie Stephen rightly says how much better 
it is to have a thick skin and a good digestion. Yes, as- 
suredly; but what is the use of knowing that, if one hasn't? 
In one of my saddest moods, only a week or two ago, 
because I had failed twice over in drawing the lifted hand 
of Giotto's "Poverty"; utterly beaten and comfortless, at 
Assisi, I got some wholesome peace and refreshment by 
mere sympathy with a Bewickian little pig in the roundest 
and conceitedest burst of pig-blossom. His servant, — a grave 
old woman, with much sorrow and toil in the wrinkles of 
her skin, while his was only dimpled in its divine thick- 
ness, — was leading him, with magnanimous length of rope, 
down a grassy path behind the convent; stopping, of course, 
where he chose. Stray stalks and leaves of eatable things, 

* Paradise Lost, I, 292 ft. 



408 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

in various stages of ambrosial rottenness, lay here and 
there; the convent walls made more savoury by their fumi- 
gation, as Mr. Leslie Stephen says the Alpine pines are by 
his cigar. And the little joyful darling of Demeter shook 
his curly tail, and munched; and grunted the goodnatured- 
est of grunts, and snuffled the approvingest of snuffles, and 
was a balm and beatification to behold; and I would fain 
have changed places with him for a little while, or with 
Mr. Leslie Stephen for a little while, — at luncheon, suppose, 
— anywhere but among the Alps. But it can't be. 

Hotel Meurice, Paris, 

20th October, 1874. 

I interrupt myself, for an instant or two, to take notice 
of two little things that happen to me here — arriving to 
breakfast by night train from Geneva. 

Expecting to be cold, I had ordered fire, and sat down 
by it to read my letters as soon as I arrived, not noticing 
that the little parlour was getting much too hot. Presently, 
in comes the chambermaid, to put the bedroom in order, 
which one enters through the parlour. Perceiving that I am 
mismanaging myself, in the way of fresh air, as she passes 
through, "II fait bien chaud, monsieur, ici," says she, re- 
provingly, and with entire self-possession. Now that is 
French servant-character of the right old school. She knows 
her own position perfectly, and means to stay in it, and 
wear her little white radiant frill of a cap all her days. 
She knows my position also; and has not the least fear of 
my thinking her impertinent because she tells me what it 
is right that I should know. Presently afterwards, an evi- 
dently German-importation of waiter brings me up my 
breakfast, which has been longer in appearing than it would 
have been in old times. It looks all right at first, — the 
napkin, china, and solid silver sugar basin, all of the old 
regime. Bread, butter, — yes, of the best, still. Coffee, milk, 
— all right too. But, at last here is a bit of the new regime. 
There are no sugar-tongs; and the sugar is of beetroot, 



THE ADVENT COLLECT 409 

and in methodically similar cakes, which I must break with 
my finger and thumb if I want a small piece, and put back 
what I don't want, for my neighbour, to-morrow. 

"Civilization," this, you observe, according to Professor 
Liebig and Mr. John Stuart Mill. Not according to old 
French manners, however. 

Now, my readers are continually complaining that I don't 
go on telling them my plan of life, under the rule of St. 
George's Company. 

I have told it them, again and again, in broad terms; 
agricultural life, with as much refinement as I can enforce 
in it. But it is impossible to describe what I mean by "re- 
finement," except in details which can only be suggested by 
practical need; and which cannot at all be set down at once. 

Here, however, to-day, is one instance. At the best hotel 
in what has been supposed the most luxurious city of 
modern Europe, — because people are now always in a hurry 
to catch the train, they haven't time to use the sugar-tongs, 
or look for a little piece among differently sized lumps, and 
therefore they use their fingers; have bad sugar instead of 
good, and waste the ground that would grow blessed cherry 
trees, currant bushes, or wheat, in growing a miserable root 
as a substitute for the sugar-cane, which God has appointed 
to grow where cherries and wheat won't, and to give juice 
which will freeze into sweet snow as pure as hoar-frost. 

Now, on the poorest farm of the St. George's Company, 
the servants shall have white and brown sugar of the best 
— or none. If we are too poor to buy sugar, we will drink 
our tea without; and have suet-dumpling instead of pud- 
ding. But among the earliest school lessons, and home les- 
sons, decent behaviour at table will be primarily essential; 
and of such decency, one little exact point will be — the 
neat, patient, and scrupulous use of sugar-tongs instead of 
fingers. If we are too poor to have silver basins, we will 
have delf ones; if not silver tongs, we will have wooden 
ones; and the boys of the house shall be challenged to cut, 
and fit together, the prettiest and handiest machines of the 



410 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

sort they can contrive. In six months you would find more 
real art fancy brought out in the wooden handles and claws, 
than there is now in all the plate in London. 

Now, there's the cuckoo-clock striking seven, just as I 
sit down to correct the press of this sheet, in my nursery at 
Heme Hill; and though I don't remember, as the murderer 
does in Mr. Crummies' play, having heard a cuckoo-clock 
strike seven — in my infancy, I do remember in my favourite 
Frank* much talk of the housekeeper's cuckoo-clock, and 
of the boy's ingenuity in mending it. Yet to this hour of 
seven in the morning, ninth December of my fifty-fifth year, 
I haven't the least notion how any such clock says "Cuckoo," 
nor a clear one even of the making of the commonest bark- 
ing toy of a child's Noah's ark. I don't know how a barrel- 
organ produces music by being ground; nor what real 
function the pea has in a whistle. Physical science — all this 
— of a kind which would have been boundlessly interesting 
to me, as to all boys of mellifluous disposition, if only I had 
been taught it with due immediate practice, and enforce- 
ment of true manufacture, or, in pleasant Saxon, "handi- 
work." But there shall not be on St. George's estate a single 
thing in the house which the boys don't know how to make, 
nor a single dish on the table which the girls will not know 
how to cook. 

By the way, I have been greatly surprised by receiving 
some letters of puzzled inquiry as to the meaning of my 
recipe, given last year, for Yorkshire Pie. Do not my readers 
yet at all understand that the whole gist of this book is to 
make people build their own houses, provide and cook 
their own dinners, and enjoy both? Something else besides, 
perhaps; but at least, and at first, those. St. Michael's mass, 
and Christ's mass, may eventually be associated in your 
minds with other things than goose and pudding; but Fors 

* Nicholas Nickleby, Ch. XXIV, and Miss Maria Edgeworth's edifying 
nursery tale, which the young Ruskin was allowed to read when not 
memorizing Genesis. 



THE ADVENT COLLECT 411 

demands at first no more chivalry nor Christianity from you 
than that you build your houses bravely, and earn your 
dinners honestly, and enjoy them both, and be content with 
them both. The contentment is the main matter; you may 
enjoy to any extent, but if you are discontented, your life 
will be poisoned. The little pig was so comforting to me 
because he was wholly content to be a little pig; and Mr. 
Leslie Stephen is in a certain degree exemplary and com- 
forting to me, because he is wholly content to be Mr. Leslie 
Stephen; while I am miserable because I am always wanting 
to be something else than I am. I want to be Turner; I want 
to be Gainsborough; I want to be Samuel Prout; I want to 
be Doge of Venice; I want to be Pope; I want to be Lord 
of the Sun and Moon. The other day, when I read that 
story in the papers about the dog-fight,* I wanted to be 
able to fight a bulldog. 

Truly, that was the only effect of the story upon me, 
though I heard everybody else screaming out "how horrible 
it was!" What's horrible in it? Of course it is in bad taste, 
and the sign of a declining era of national honour — as all 
brutal gladiatorial exhibitions are; and the stakes and rings 
of the tethered combat meant precisely, for England, what 
the stakes and rings of the Theater of Taormina, — where 
I saw the holes left for them among the turf, blue with 
Sicilian lilies, in this last April, — meant, for Greece, and 
Rome. There might be something loathsome, or something 
ominous, in such a story, to the old Greeks of the school of 
Heracles; who used to fight with the Nemean lion, or with 
Cerberus, when it was needful only, and not for money; and 
whom their Argus remembered through all Trojan exile. 
There might be something loathsome in it, or ominous, to 
an Englishman of the school of Shakespeare or Scott; who 
would fight with men only, and loved his hound. But for 
you — you carnivorous cheats — what, in dog's or devil's 

* I don't know how far it turned out to be true, — a fight between a 
dwarf and a bulldog (both chained to stakes, as in Roman days), 
described at length in some journals. [Ruskin's note.] 



412 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

name, is there horrible in it for you? Do you suppose it isn't 
more manly and virtuous to fight a bulldog, than to poison 
a child, or cheat a fellow who trusts you, or leave a girl to 
go wild in the streets? And don't you live, and profess to 
live — and even insolently proclaim that there's no other 
way of living than — by poisoning and cheating? And isn't 
every woman of fashion's dress, in Europe, now set the pat- 
tern of to her by its prostitutes? 

What's horrible in it? I ask you, the third time. I hate, 
myself, seeing a bulldog ill-treated; for they are the gentlest 
and faithfullest of living creatures if you use them well. And 
the best dog I ever had was a bull-terrier, whose object in 
life was to please me, and nothing else; though, if he found 
he could please me by holding on with his teeth to an inch- 
thick stick, and being swung round in the air as fast as I 
could turn, that was his own idea of entirely felicitous exist- 
ence. I don't like, therefore, hearing of a bulldog's being ill- 
treated; but I can tell you a little thing that chanced to me 
at Coniston the other day, more horrible, in the deep 
elements of it, than all the dog, bulldog, or bull-fights, or 
baitings, of England, Spain, and California. A fine boy, the 
son of an amiable English clergyman, had come on the 
coach-box round the Water-head to see me, and was telling 
me of the delightful drive he had had. "Oh," he said, in the 
triumph of his enthusiasm, "and just at the corner of the 
wood, there was such a big squirrel! and the coachman 
threw a stone at it, and nearly hit it!" 

"Thoughtlessness — only thoughtlessness" — say you — 
proud father? Well, perhaps not much worse than that. 
But how could it be much worse? Thoughtlessness is pre- 
cisely the chief public calamity of our day; and when it 
comes to the pitch, in a clergyman's child, of not thinking 
that a stone hurts what it hits of living things, and not 
caring for the daintiest, dextrousest, innocentest living thing 
in the northern forests of God's earth, except as a brown 
excresence to be knocked off their branches, — nay, good 
pastor of Christ's lambs, believe me, your boy had better 



THE CATHOLIC PRAYER 413 

have been employed in thoughtfully and resolutely stoning 
St. Stephen — if any St. Stephen is to be found in these 
days, when men not only can't see heaven opened, but 
don't so much as care to see it shut. 

For they, at least, meant neither to give pain nor death 
without cause, — that unanimous company who stopped 
their ears, — they, and the consenting bystander who after- 
wards was sorry for his mistake. . . . [Letter 48] 

The Catholic Prayer 

"Deus, a quo sancta desideria, recta consilia, et justa sunt 
opera, da servis tuis Mam quam mundus dare non potest 
pacem, ut et corda nostra mandatis tuis, et, hostium sublata 
formidine, tempora, sint tud protectione tranquilla." 

"God, from whom are all holy desires, right counsels, and 
just works, give to Thy servants that peace which the world 
cannot, that both our hearts, in Thy commandments, and 
our times, the fear of enemies being taken away, may be 
calm under Thy guard/' 

The adulteration of this great Catholic prayer in our Eng- 
lish church-service (as needless as it was senseless, since the 
pure form of it contains nothing but absolutely Christian 
prayer, and is as fit for the most stammering Protestant lips 
as for Dante's), destroyed all the definite meaning of it, and 
left merely the vague expression of desire for peace, on 
quite unregarded terms. For of the millions of people who 
utter the prayer at least weekly, there is not one in a thou- 
sand who is ever taught, or can for themselves find out, 
either what a holy desire means, or a right counsel means, or 
a just work means, — or what the world is, or what the peace 
is which it cannot give. And half-an-hour after they have 
insulted God by praying to Him in this deadest of all dead 
languages, not understanded of the people, they leave the 
church, themselves pacified in their perennial determina- 



414 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

tion to put no check on their natural covetousness; to act 
on their own opinions, be they right or wrong; to do what- 
ever they can make money by, be it just or unjust; and 
to thrust themselves, with the utmost of their soul and 
strength, to the highest, by them attainable, pinnacle of 
the most bedrummed and betrumpeted booth in the Fair 
of the World. 

The prayer, in its pure text, is essentially, indeed, a 
monastic one; but it is written for the great Monastery of 
the Servants of God, whom the world hates. It cannot be 
uttered with honesty but by these; nor can it ever be an- 
swered but with the peace bequeathed to these, "not as 
the world giveth." 

Of which peace, the nature is not to be without war, 
but undisturbed in the midst of war; and not without 
enemies, but without fear of them. It is a peace without 
pain, because desiring only what is holy; without anxiety, 
because it thinks only what is right; without disappoint- 
ment, because a just work is always successful; without 
sorrow, because "great peace have they which love Thy 
Law, and nothing shall offend them"; and without terror, 
because the God of all battles is its Guard. 

So far as any living souls in the England of this day can 
use, understandingly, the words of this collect, they are 
already, consciously or not, companions of all good la- 
bourers in the vineyard of God. For those who use it rever- 
ently, yet have never set themselves to find out what the 
commandments of God are, nor how lovable they are, nor 
how far, instead of those commandments, the laws of the 
world are the only code they care for, nor how far they still 
think their own thoughts and speak their own words, it is 
assuredly time to search out these things. And I believe that, 
after having searched them out, no sincerely good and re- 
ligious person would find, whatever his own particular 
form of belief might be, anything which he could reason- 
ably refuse, or which he ought in anywise to fear to profess 
before all men, in the following statement of creed and 



THE CATHOLIC PRAYER 415 

resolution, which must be written with their own hand, and 
signed, with the solemnity of a vow, by every person re- 
ceived into the St. George's Company. 

I. I trust in the Living God, Father Almighty, Maker 
of heaven and earth, and of all things and crea- 
tures visible and invisible. 

I trust in the kindness of His law, and the 
goodness of His work. 

And I will strive to love Him, and keep His 
law, and see His work, while I live. 
II. I trust in the nobleness of human nature, in the 
majesty of its faculties, the fulness of its mercy, 
and the joy of its love. 

And I will strive to love my neighbour as my- 
self, and, even when I cannot, will act as if I did. 

III. I will labour, with such strength and opportunity as 

God gives me, for my own daily bread; and all 
that my hand finds to do, I will do with my 
might. 

IV. I will not deceive, or cause to be deceived, any 

human being for my gain or pleasure; nor hurt, 
or cause to be hurt, any human being for my 
gain or pleasure; nor rob, or cause to be robbed, 
any human being for my gain or pleasure. 
V. I will not kill nor hurt any living creature need- 
lessly, nor destroy any beautiful thing, but will 
strive to save and comfort all gentle life, and 
guard and perfect all natural beauty, upon the 
earth. 
VI. I will strive to raise my own body and soul daily 
into higher powers of duty and happiness; not 
in rivalship or contention with others, but for 
the help, delight, and honour of others, and for 
the joy and peace of my own life. 
VII. I will obey all the laws of my country faithfully; 
and the orders of its monarch, and of all persons 



416 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

appointed to be in authority under its monarch, 
so far as such laws or commands are consistent 
with what I suppose to be the law of God; and 
when they are not, or seem in anywise to need 
change, I will oppose them loyally and deliber- 
ately, not with malicious, concealed, or disorderly 
violence. 
VIII. And with the same faithfulness, and under the 
limits of the same obedience, which I render to 
the laws of my country, and the commands of its 
rulers, I will obey the laws of the Society called 
of St. George, into which I am this day received; 
and the orders of its masters, and of all persons 
appointed to be in authority under its masters, 
so long as I remain a Companion, called of St. 
George. . . . 

The object of the Society, it has been stated again and 
again, is to buy land in England; and thereon to train 
into the healthiest and most refined life possible, as many 
Englishmen, Englishwomen, and English children, as the 
land we possess can maintain in comfort; to establish, for 
them and their descendants, a national store of continually 
augmenting wealth; and to organize the government of 
the persons, and administration of the properties, under 
laws which shall be just to all, and secure in their inviolable 
foundation on the Law of God. . . . 

While, therefore, I am perfectly content, for a beginning, 
with our acre of rocky land given us by Mrs. Talbot, and 
am so little impatient for any increase that I have been 
quietly drawing ragged-robbin leaves in Malham Cove, 
instead of going to see another twenty acres promised in 
Worcestershire, — I am yet thinking out my system on a 
scale which shall be fit for wide European work. Of course 
the single Master of the Company cannot manage all its 
concerns as it extends. He must have, for his help, men 
holding the same relation to him which the Marshals of an 
army do its General; — bearing, that is to say, his own 



THE FATHERLAND 417 

authority where he is not present; and I believe no better 
name than "Marshal" can be found for these. Beneath 
whom, there will again be the landlords, resident each in 
his own district; under these, the land agents, tenantry, 
tradesmen, and hired labourers, some of whom will be 
Companions, others Retainers, and others free tenants: and 
outside all this there will be of course an irregular cavalry, 
so to speak, of more or less helpful friends, who, without 
sharing in the work, will be glad to further it more or less, 
as they would any other benevolent institution. . . . 

And what am I, myself then, infirm and old, who take, 
or claim, leadership even of these lords? God forbid that 
I should claim it; it is thrust and compelled on me — utterly 
against my will, utterly to my distress, utterly, in many 
things, to my shame. But I have found no other man in 
England, none in Europe, ready to receive it, — or even 
desiring to make himself capable of receiving it. Such 
as I am, to my own amazement, I stand — so far as I 
can discern — alone in conviction, in hope, and in resolu- 
tion, in the wilderness of this modern world. Bred in lux- 
ury, which I perceive to have been unjust to others, and 
destructive to myself; vacillating, foolish, and miserably 
failing in all my own conduct in life — and blown about 
hopelessly by storms of passion — I, a man clothed in soft 
raiment, — I, a reed shaken with the wind, have yet this 
Message to all men again entrusted to me: "Behold, the 
axe is laid to the root of the trees. Whatsoever tree therefore 
bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be hewn down and cast 
into the fire." . . . [Letter 58] 

The Fatherland 

Venice, 9th November, 1876, 7 morning. 
I have set my writing-table close to the pillars of the great 
window of the Ca' Ferro, which I drew, in 1841, carefully, 
with those of the next palace, Ca* Contarini Fasan. Samuel 
Prout was so pleased with the sketch that he borrowed it, 



418 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

and made the upright drawing from it of the palace with 
the rich balconies, which now represents his work very 
widely as a chromo-lithotint. 

Between the shafts of the pillars, the morning sky is 
seen pure and pale, relieving the grey dome of the church 
of the Salute; but beside that vault, and like it, vast thunder- 
clouds heap themselves above the horizon, catching the 
light of dawn upon them where they rise, far westward, 
over the dark roof of the ruined Badia; — but all so massive, 
that half-an-hour ago, in the dawn, I scarcely knew the 
Salute dome and towers from theirs; while the sea-gulls, 
rising and falling hither and thither in clusters above the 
green water beyond my balcony, tell me that the south wind 
is wild on Adria. 

"Dux inquieti turbidus Adriae." — The Sea has her Lord, 
and the sea-birds are prescient of the storm; but my own 
England, ruler of the waves in her own proud thoughts, 
can she rule the tumult of her people or, pilotless, even so 
much as discern the thunderclouds heaped over her Galilean 
lake of life? 

Here is a little grey cockle-shell, lying beside me, which 
I gathered, the other evening, out of the dust of the Island 
of St. Helena; and a brightly-spotted snail-shell, from the 
thistly sands of Lido; and I want to set myself to draw these, 
and describe them, in peace. 

"Yes," all my friends say, "that is my business; why can't 
I mind it, and be happy?" 

Well, good friends, I would fain please you, and myself 
with you; and live here in my Venetian palace, luxurious; 
scrutinant of dome, cloud, and cockle-shell. I could even 
sell my books for not inconsiderable sums of money if I 
chose to bribe the reviewers, pay half of all I got to the 
booksellers, stick bills on the lamp-posts, and say nothing 
but what would please the Bishop of Peterborough.* 

I could say a great deal that would please him, and yet 

* Whom the press had reported as advocating "strict neutrality" in 
matters of political economy. 



STAR LAW 419 

be very good and useful; I should like much again to be 
on terms with my old publisher, and hear him telling me 
nice stories over our walnuts, this Christmas, after dividing 
his year's spoil with me in Christmas charity. And little 
enough mind have I for any work, in this seventy-seventh 
year that's coming of our glorious century, wider than I 
could find in the compass of my cockle-shell. 

But alas! my prudent friends, little enough of all that 
I have a mind to may be permitted me. For this green tide 
that eddies by my threshold is full of floating corpses, and 
I must leave my dinner to bury them, since I cannot save; 
and put my cockle-shell in cap, and take my staff in hand, 
to seek an unencumbered shore. This green sea-tide! — yes, 
and if you knew it, your black and sulphurous tides also — 
Yarrow, and Teviot, and Clyde, and the stream, for ever 
now drumly and dark as it rolls on its way, at the ford of 
Melrose. 

Yes, and the fair lakes and running waters in your Eng- 
lish park pleasure-grounds, — nay, also the great and wide 
sea, that gnaws your cliffs, — yes, and Death, and Hell also, 
more cruel than cliff or sea; and a more neutral episcopal 
person than even my Lord of Peterborough stands, level- 
barred balance in hand, — waiting (how long?) till the Sea 
shall give up the dead which are in it, and Death, and Hell, 
give up the dead which are in them. . . . [Letter 72] 

Star Law 

Venice, Purification of the Virgin, 1877. 
It is eleven years to-day since the 2nd of February became 
a great festival to me:* now, like all the days of all the 
years, a shadow; deeper, this, in beautiful shade. The sun 
has risen cloudless, and I have been looking at the light of it 
on the edges of St. Ursula's flower, which is happy with 
me, and has four buds bursting, and one newly open flower, 
* The day on which Ruskin proposed marriage to Rose La Touche. 






420 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

which the first sunbeams filled with crimson light down 
under every film of petal; whose jagged edges of paler rose 
broke over and over each other, tossed here and there into 
crested flakes of petal foam, as if the Adriatic breakers had 
all been changed into crimson leaves at the feet of Venice- 
Aphrodite. And my dear old Chamouni guide, Joseph 
Couttet, is dead; he who said of me "le pauvre enfant, — il 
ne sait pas vivre" and (another time) he would give me nine 
sous a day, to keep cows, as that was all I was worth, for 
aught he could see. Captain of Mont Blanc, in his time, — 
eleven times up it, before Alpine clubs began; like to have 
been left in a crevasse of the Grand Plateau, where three 
of his mates were left, indeed; he, fourth of the line, under 
Dr. Hamel, just brought out of the avalanche-snow breath- 
ing. Many a merry walk he took me in his onward years — 
fifty-five or so, thirty years ago. Clear in heart and mind to 
the last, if you let him talk; wandering a little if you 
wanted him to listen; — I've known younger people with 
somewhat of that weakness. And so, he took to his bed, 
and — ten days ago, as I hear, said, one evening, to his 
daughter Judith, "Bon soir, je pars pour l'autre monde," 
and so went. . . . And we are here with guides of the newest, 
mostly blind, and proud of finding their way always with a 
stick. If they trusted in their dogs, one would love them a 
little for their dogs' sakes. But they only vivisect their dogs. 
If I don't tell you my tale of the Venetian doggie* at 
once, it's all over with it. How so much love and life can 
be got into a little tangle of floss silk, St. Theodore knows; 
not I; and its master is one of the best servants in this 
world, to one of the best masters. It was to be drowned, soon 
after its eyes had opened to the light of sea and sky, — a poor 
worthless wet flake of floss silk it had like to have been, 
presently. Toni pitied it, pulled it out of the water, bought 

* The pet of Ruskin's friend, Rawdon Brown, whose gondolier, 
Antonio, figures in the story here told. Earlier in the letter, Ruskin 
had alluded to the dog and also recounted the legend of St. Theodore's 
slaying of a dragon. 



STAR LAW 421 

it for certain sous, brought it home under his arm. What it 
learned out of his heart in that half-hour, again, St. 
Theodore knows; — but the mute spiritual creature has 
been his own, verily, from that day, and only lives for him. 
Toni, being a pious Toni as well as a pitiful, went this 
last autumn, in his holiday, to see the Pope; but did not 
think of taking the doggie with him (who, St. Theodore 
would surely have said, ought to have seen the Pope too). 
Whereupon, the little silken mystery wholly refused to eat. 
No coaxing, no tempting, no nursing, would cheer the 
desolate-minded thing from that sincere fast. It would drink 
a little, and was warmed and medicined as best might be. 
Toni came back from Rome in time to save it; but it was 
not its gay self again for many and many a day after; the 
terror of such loss, as yet again possible, weighing on the 
reviving mind (stomach, supposably, much out of order 
also). It greatly dislikes getting itself wet; for, indeed, the 
tangle of its mortal body takes half a day to dry; some terror 
and thrill of uncomprehended death, perhaps, remaining 
on it, also, — who knows? but once, after this terrible Roman 
grief, running along the quay cheerfully beside rowing 
Toni, it saw him turn the gondola's head six feet aside, as 
if going away. The dog dashed into the water like a mad 
thing. "See, now, if aught but death part thee and me." 

Indistinguishable, doubtless, in its bones from a small 
wolf: according to Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins: but much 
distinguishable, by St. Theodore's theology, telling of God, 
down, thus far at least, in nature. Emmanuel, — with us; in 
Raphael, in Tobias, in all loving and lowly things; "the 
young man's dog went with them.". . . 

I have told you the wealth of the world consists, for one 
great article, in its useful animals. 

How to get the most you can of those, and the most 
serviceable? 

"Rob the squires' stables, to begin with?" 

No, good friends, — no. Their stables have been to them 



422 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

as the first wards of Hell, locked on them in this life, for 
these three hundred years. But you must not open them 
that way, even for their own sakes. 

"Poach the squires' game?" 

No, good friends, — no. Down among the wild en'mies, the 
dust of many a true English keeper forbids you that form of 
theft, for ever. 

"Poison the squires' hounds, and keep a blood bull ter- 
rier?" 

Worse and worse — merry men, all. 

No — here's the beginning. Box your own lad's ears the 
first time you see him shy a stone at a sparrow; and heartily, 
too; but put up, you and mother — (and thank God for the 
blessed persecution), — with every conceivable form of ver- 
min the boy likes to bring into the house, — and go hungry 
yourselves rather than not feed his rat or his rabbit. 

Then, secondly, — you want to be a gentleman yourself, 
I suppose? 

Well, you can't be, as I have told you before, nor I 
neither; and there's an end, neither of us being born in 
the caste: but you may get some pieces of gentlemen's 
education, which will lead the way to your son's being a 
better man than you. 

And of all essential things in a gentleman's bodily and 
moral training, this is really the beginning — that he should 
have close companionship with the horse, the dog, and 
the eagle. Of all birthrights and bookrights — this is his 
first. He needn't be a Christian, — there have been millions 
of Pagan gentlemen; he needn't be kind — there have been 
millions of cruel gentlemen; he needn't be honest, — there 
have been millions of crafty gentlemen. He needn't know 
how to read, or to write his own name. But he must have 
horse, dog, and eagle for friends. If then he has also Man 
for his friend, he is a noble gentleman; and if God for his 
Friend, a king. And if, being honest, being kind, and hav- 
ing God and Man for his friends, he then gets these three 
brutal friends, besides his angelic ones, he is perfect in 
earth, as for heaven. For, to be his friends, these must be 



STAR LAW 423 

brought up with him, and he with them. Falcon on fist, 
hound at foot, and horse part of himself — Eques, Ritter, 
Cavalier, Chevalier. 

Yes; — horse and dog you understand the good of; but 
what's the good of the falcon, think you? 

To be friends with the falcon must mean that you love 
to see it soar; that is to say, you love fresh air and the 
fields. Farther, when the Law of God is understood, you 
will like better to see the eagle free than the jessed hawk. 
And to preserve your eagles' nests, is to be a great nation. 
It means keeping everything that is noble; mountains and 
floods, and forests, and the glory and honour of them, and 
all the birds that haunt them. If the eagle takes more than 
his share, you may shoot him, — (but with the knight's ar- 
row, not the blackguard's gun) — and not till then. 

Meantime, for you are of course by no means on the 
direct way to the accomplishment of all this, your way to 
such wealth, so far as in your present power, is this: first, 
acknowledgment of the mystery of divine life, kindly and 
dreadful, throughout creation; then the taking up your 
own part as the Lord of this life; to protect, assist, or ex- 
tinguish, as it is commanded you. Understand that a mad 
dog is to be slain; though with pity — infinitude of pity, — 
(and much more, a mad man, of an injurious kind; for a 
mad dog only bites flesh; but a mad man, spirit: get your 
rogue, the supremely maddest of men, with supreme pity 
always, but inexorably, hanged). But to all good and sane 
men and beasts, be true brother; and as it is best, perhaps, 
to begin with all things in the lowest place, begin with 
true brotherhood to the beast: in pure simplicity of prac- 
tical help, I should like a squad of you to stand always 
harnessed, at the bottom of any hills you know of in Shef- 
field, — where the horses strain; — ready there at given hours; 
carts ordered not to pass at any others: at the low level, 
hook yourselves on before the horses; pull them up too, if 
need be; and dismiss them at the top with a pat and a 
mouthful of hay. Here's a beginning of chivalry, and gentle- 
manly life for you, my masters. . . . [Letter 75] 



424 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

Our Battle Is Immortal 



Venice, Sunday 4th March, 1877. 

You cannot but have noticed — any of you who read at- 
tentively, — that Fors has become much more distinctly 
Christian in its tone, during the last two years; and those 
of you who know with any care my former works, must 
feel a yet more vivid contrast between the spirit in which 
the preface to the Crown of Wild Olive was written, and 
that in which I am now collating for you the Mother Laws 
of the Trades of Venice. 

This is partly because I am every day compelled, with 
increasing amazement, and renewed energy, to contradict 
the idiotic teaching of Atheism which is multiplied in your 
ears; but it depends far more essentially on two vital causes: 
the first, that since Fors began, "such things have befallen 
me" personally, which have taught me much, but of which 
I need not at present speak; the second, that in the work 
I did at Assisi in 1874, I discovered a fallacy which had 
underlain all my art teaching (and the teaching of Art, as 
I understand it, is the teaching of all things) since the year 
1858. Of which I must be so far tedious to you as to give 
some brief account. For it is continually said of me, and I 
observe has been publicly repeated lately by one of my 
very good friends, that I have "changed my opinions" 
about painting and architecture. And this, like all the worst 
of falsehoods, has one little kernel of distorted truth in the 
heart of it, which it is practically necessary, now, that you, 
my Sheffield essayists of St. George's service,* should clearly 
know. 

All my first books, to the end of the Stones of Venice, 
were written in the simple belief I had been taught as a 
child; and especially the second volume of Modern Painters 

* That is, the workingmen -members of St. George's Guild in Sheffield, 
where Ruskin founded a museum centered on works donated from his 
own collections of minerals, manuscripts, and paintings. 



OUR BATTLE IS IMMORTAL 425 

was an outcry of enthusiastic praise of religious painting, in 
which you will find me placing Fra Angelico (see the closing 
paragraph of the book) above all other painters. 

But during my work at Venice, I discovered the gigantic 
power of Tintoret, and found that there was a quite differ- 
ent spirit in that from the spirit of Angelico; and, analysing 
Venetian work carefully, I found, — and told fearlessly, in 
spite of my love for the masters, — that there was "no re- 
ligion whatever in any work of Titian's; and that Tintoret 
only occasionally forgot himself into religion." — I repeat 
now, and reaffirm, this statement; but must ask the reader 
to add to it, what I partly indeed said in other places at the 
time, that only when Tintoret forgets himself, does he truly 
find himself. 

Now you see that among the four pieces of art I have 
given you for standards to study, only one is said to be 
"perfect," — Titian's. And ever since the Stones of Venice 
was written, Titian was given in all my art teaching as a 
standard of perfection. Conceive the weight of this problem, 
then, on my inner mind — how the most perfect work I 
knew, in my special business, could be done "wholly with- 
out religion"! 

I set myself to work out that problem thoroughly in 
1858, and arrived at the conclusion — which is an entirely 
sound one, and which did indeed alter, from that time 
forward, the tone and method of my teaching, — that human 
work must be done honourably and thoroughly, because we 
are now Men; — whether we ever expect to be angels, or 
ever were slugs, being practically no matter. We are now 
Human creatures, and must, at our peril, do Human — that 
is to say, affectionate, honest, and earnest work. 

Farther, I found, and have always since taught, and do 
teach, and shall teach, I doubt not, till I die, that in re- 
solving to do our work well, is the only sound foundation 
of any religion whatsoever: and that by that resolution 
only, and what we have done, and not by our belief, Christ 
will judge us, as He has plainly told us He will (though 
nobody believes Him) in the Resurrection. 



426 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

But, beyond this, in the year 1858, I came to another 
conclusion, which was a false one. 

My work on the Venetians in that year not only con- 
vinced me of their consummate power, but showed me that 
there was a great worldly harmony running through all 
they did — opposing itself to the fanaticism of the Papacy; 
and in this worldly harmony of human and artistic power, 
my own special idol, Turner, stood side by side with Tin- 
toret; so also Velasquez, Sir Joshua, and Gainsborough, 
stood with Titian and Veronese; and those seven men — 
quite demonstrably and indisputably giants in the domain 
of Art, of whom in the words of Velasquez himself, "Tizian 
z'e quel che porta la Bandiera,"* — stood, as heads of a 
great Worldly Army, worshippers of Worldly visible Truth, 
against (as it seemed then to me), and assuredly distinct 
from, another sacred army, bearing the Rule of the Catholic 
Church in the strictest obedience, and headed by Cimabue, 
Giotto, and Angelico; worshippers not of a worldly and 
visible Truth, but of a visionary one, which they asserted 
to be higher; yet under the (as they asserted — supernatural) 
teaching of the Spirit of this Truth, doing less perfect work 
than their unassisted opposites! 

All this is entirely so; fact tremendous in its unity, and 
difficult enough as it stands to me even now; but as it stood 
to me then, wholly insoluble, for I was still in the bonds of 
my old Evangelical faith; and, in 1858, it was with me, 
Protestantism or nothing: the crisis of the whole turn of my 
thoughts being one Sunday morning, at Turin, when, from 
before Paul Veronese's Queen of Sheba, and under quite 
overwhelmed sense of his God-given power, I went away to 
a Waldensian chapel, where a little squeaking idiot was 
preaching to an audience of seventeen old women and three 
louts, that they were the only children of God in Turin; 
and that all the people in Turin outside the chapel, and all 
the people in the world out of sight of Monte Viso, would 
be damned. I came out of the chapel, in sum of twenty 
• "Titian it is who bears the banner." 



OUR BATTLE IS IMMORTAL 427 

years of thought, a conclusively wn-converted man — con- 
verted by this little Piedmontest gentleman, so powerful in 
his organ-grinding, inside-out, as it were. "Here is an end 
to my 'Mother-Law' of Protestantism anyhow! — and now — 
what is there left?" You will find what was left, as, in much 
darkness and sorrow of heart I gathered it, variously taught 
in my books, written between 1858 and 1874. It is all sound 
and good, as far as it goes: whereas all that went before was 
so mixed with Protestant egotism and insolence, that, as you 
have probably heard, I won't republish, in their first form, 
any of those former books. 

Thus then it went with me till 1874, when I had lived 
sixteen full years with "the religion of Humanity," for 
rough and strong and sure foundation of everything; but 
on that, building Greek and Arabian superstructure, taught 
me at Venice, full of sacred colour and melancholy shade. 
Which is the under meaning of my answer to the Capuchin 
(Fors, Aug. 1875, § 2), that I was "more a Turk than a 
Christian." The Capuchin insisted, as you see, nevertheless 
that I might have a bit of St. Francis's cloak: which accept- 
ing thankfully, I went on to Assisi, and there, by the kind- 
ness of my good friend Padre Tini, and others, I was allowed 
(and believe I am the first painter who ever was allowed) 
to have scaffolding erected above the high altar, and there- 
fore above the body of St. Francis which lies in the lower 
chapel beneath it; and thence to draw what I could of the 
great fresco of Giotto, "The marriage of Poverty and 
Francis." 

And while making this drawing, I discovered the fallacy 
under which I had been tormented for sixteen years, — the 
fallacy that Religious artists were weaker than Irreligious. 
I found that all Giotto's "weaknesses" (so called) were 
merely absences of material science. He did not know, and 
could not, in his day, so much of perspective as Titian, — 
so much of the laws of light and shade, or so much of 
technical composition. But I found he was in the make of 
him, and contents, a very much stronger and greater man 



428 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

than Titian; that the things I had fancied easy in his work, 
because they were so unpretending and simple, were never- 
theless entirely inimitable; that the Religion in him, instead 
of weakening, had solemnized and developed every faculty 
of his heart and hand; and finally that his work, in all the 
innocence of it, was yet a human achievement and posses- 
sion, quite above everything that Titian had ever done! 

"But what is all this about Titian and Angelico to you," 
are you thinking? "We belong to cotton mills — -iron mills: 
— what is Titian to us! — and to all men. Heirs only of 
simial life, what Angelico?" 

Patience — yet for a little while. They shall both be at 
least something to you before St. George's Museum is six 
months older. 

Meantime, don't be afraid that I am going to become a 
Roman Catholic, or that I am one, in disguise. I can no 
more become a Roman-Catholic, than again an Evangelical- 
Protestant. I am a "Catholic" of those Catholics, to whom 
the Catholic Epistle of St. James is addressed — "the Twelve 
Tribes which are scattered abroad" — the literally or spirit- 
ually wandering Israel of all the Earth. The St. George's 
creed includes Turks, Jews, infidels, and heretics; and I am 
myself much of a Turk, more of a Jew; alas, most of all, — 
an infidel; but not an atom of a heretic: Catholic, I, of the 
Catholics; holding only for sure God's order to His scattered 
Israel, — "He hath shown thee, oh man, what is good; and 
what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do 
justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy 
God?" . . . [Letter 76] 

The Convents of St. Quentin 

Brantwood, 8th February, 1880. 
It is now close on two years since I was struck by the illness 
which brought these Letters to an end, as a periodical series; 
nor did I think, on first recovery, that I should ever be able 



THE CONVENTS OF ST. QUENTIN 429 

to conclude them otherwise than by a few comments in 
arranging their topical index. 

But my strength is now enough restored to permit me 
to add one or two more direct pieces of teaching to the 
broken statements of principle which it has become difficult 
to gather out of the mixed substance of the book. These 
will be written at such leisure as I may find, and form an 
eighth volume, which with a thin ninth, containing indices, 
I shall be thankful if I can issue in this tenth year from the 
beginning of the work. 

To-day, being my sixty-first birthday, I would ask leave 
to say a few words to the friends who care for me, and the 
readers who are anxious about me, touching the above- 
named illness itself. For a physician's estimate of it, indeed, 
I can only refer them to my physicians. But there were 
some conditions of it which I knew better than they could: 
namely, first, the precise and sharp distinction between the 
state of morbid inflammation of brain which gave rise to 
false visions (whether in sleep, or trance, or waking, in 
broad daylight, with perfect knowledge of the real things 
in the room, while yet I saw others that were not there), 
and the not morbid, however dangerous, states of more or 
less excited temper, and too much quickened thought, 
which gradually led up to the illness, accelerating in action 
during the eight or ten days preceding the actual giving way 
of the brain (as may be enough seen in the fragmentary 
writing of the first edition of my notes on the Turner 
exhibition); and yet, up to the transitional moment of first 
hallucination, entirely healthy, and in the full sense of the 
word "sane"; just as the natural inflammation about a heal- 
ing wound in flesh is sane, up to the transitional edge where 
it may pass at a crisis into morbific, or even mortified sub- 
stance. And this more or less inflamed, yet still perfectly 
healthy, condition of mental power, may be traced by any 
watchful reader, in Fors, nearly from its beginning, — that 
manner of mental ignition or irritation being for the time a 
great additional force, enabling me to discern more clearly, 



430 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

and say more vividly, what for long years it had been in my 
heart to say. 

Now I observed that in talking of the illness, whether 
during its access or decline, none of the doctors ever thought 
of thus distinguishing what was definitely diseased in the 
brain action, from what was simply curative — had there 
been time enough — of the wounded nature in me. And in 
the second place, not perceiving, or at least not admitting, 
this difference; nor, for the most part, apprehending (ex- 
cept the one who really carried me through, and who never 
lost hope — Dr. Parsons of Hawkshead) that there were any 
mental wounds to be healed, they made, and still make, my 
friends more anxious about me than there is occasion for: 
which anxiety I partly regret, as it pains them; but much 
more if it makes them more doubtful than they used to be 
(which, for some, is saying a good deal) of the "truth and 
soberness" of Fors itself. Throughout every syllable of 
which, hitherto written, the reader will find one consistent 
purpose, and perfectly conceived system, far more deeply 
founded than any bruited about under their founders' 
names; including in its balance one vast department of 
human skill, — the arts, — which the vulgar economists are 
wholly incapable of weighing; and a yet more vast realm of 
human enjoyment — the spiritual affections, — which mate- 
rialistic thinkers are alike incapable of imagining: a system 
not mine, nor Kant's, nor Comte's; — but that which Heaven 
has taught every true man's heart, and proved by every 
true man's work, from the beginning of time to this day. 

I use the word "Heaven" here in an absolutely literal 
sense, meaning the blue sky, and the light and air of it. Men 
who live in that light, — "in pure sunshine, not under 
mixed-up shade,"* — and whose actions are open as the air, 
always arrive at certain conditions of moral and practical 
loyalty, which are wholly independent of religious opinion. 
These, it has been the first business of Fors to declare. 
Whether there be one God or three, — no God, or ten 
* Plato, Phaedrus, 239 C. 



THE CONVENTS OF ST. QUENTIN 431 

thousand, — children should have enough to eat, and their 
skins should be washed clean. It is not I who say that. 
Every mother's heart under the sun says that, if she has one. 

Again, whether there be saints in Heaven or not, as long 
as its stars shine on the sea, and the thunnies swim there — 
every fisherman who drags a net ashore is bound to say to 
as many human creatures as he can, "Come and dine." 
And the fishmongers who destroy their fish by cartloads that 
they may make the poor pay dear for what is left, ought to 
be flogged round Billingsgate, and out of it. It is not / who 
say that. Every man's heart on sea and shore says that — if 
he isn't at heart a rascal. Whatever is dictated in Fors is 
dictated thus by common sense, common equity, common 
humanity, and common sunshine — not by me. 

But farther. I have just now used the word "Heaven" in 
a nobler sense also: meaning, Heaven and our Father 
therein. 

And beyond the power of its sunshine, which all men may 
know, Fors has declared also the power of its Fatherhood, — 
which only some men know, and others do not, — and, 
except by rough teaching, may not. For the wise of all the 
earth have said in their hearts always, "God is, and there is 
none beside Him;" and the fools of all the earth have said 
in their hearts always, "I am, and there is none beside me." 

Therefore, beyond the assertion of what is visibly salu- 
tary, Fors contains also the assertion of what is invisibly 
salutary, or salvation-bringing, in Heaven, to all men who 
will receive such health: and beyond this an invitation — 
passing gradually into an imperious call — to all men who 
trust in God, that they purge their conscience from dead 
works, and join together in work separated from the fool's; 
pure, undefiled, and worthy of Him they trust in. 

But in the third place. Besides these definitions, first, 
of what is useful to all the world, and then of what is 
useful to the wiser part of it, Fors contains much trivial 
and desultory talk by the way. Scattered up and down in 
it, — perhaps by the Devil's sowing tares among the wheat, 



432 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

— there is much casual expression of my own personal 
feelings and faith, together with bits of autobiography, 
which were allowed place, not without some notion of their 
being useful, but yet imprudently, and even incontinently, 
because I could not at the moment hold my tongue about 
what vexed or interested me, or returned soothingly to my 
memory. 

Now these personal fragments must be carefully sifted 
from the rest of the book, by readers who wish to under- 
stand it, and taken within their own limits, — no whit far- 
ther. For instance, when I say that "St. Ursula sent me a 
flower with her love," it means that I myself am in the 
habit of thinking of the Greek Persephone, the Latin 
Proserpina, and the Gothic St. Ursula, as of the same living 
spirit; and so far regulating my conduct by that idea as to 
dedicate my book on Botany to Proserpina; and to think, 
when I want to write anything pretty about flowers, how 
St. Ursula would like it said. And when on the Christmas 
morning in question, a friend staying in Venice brought 
me a pot of pinks, "with St. Ursula's love," the said pot of 
pinks did afterwards greatly help me in my work; — and 
reprove me afterwards, in its own way, for the failure of it. 

All this effort, or play, of personal imagination is utterly 
distinct from the teaching of Fors, though I thought at the 
time its confession innocent, without in any wise advising 
my readers to expect messages from pretty saints, or repro- 
bation from pots of pinks: only being urgent with them to 
ascertain clearly in their own minds what they do expect 
comfort or reproof from. Here, for instance (Sheffield, 12th 
February), I am lodging at an honest and hospitable gro- 
cer's, who has lent me his own bedroom, of which the prin- 
cipal ornament is a card printed in black and gold, sacred 
to the memory of his infant son, who died aged fourteen 
months, and whose tomb is represented under the figure of 
a broken Corinthian column, with two graceful-winged 
ladies putting garlands on it. He is comforted by this 
conception, and, in that degree, believes and feels with me: 



THE CONVENTS OF ST. QUENTIN 433 

the merely palpable fact is probably, that his child's body 
is lying between two tall chimneys which are covering it 
gradually with cinders. I am quite as clearly aware of that 
fact as the most scientific of my friends; and can probably 
see more in the bricks of the said chimneys than they. But 
if they can see nothing in Heaven above the chimney tops, 
nor conceive of anything in spirit greater than themselves, 
it is not because they have more knowledge than I, but 
because they have less sense. 

Less common-sense, — observe: less practical insight into 
the things which are of instant and constant need to man. 

I must yet allow myself a few more words of autobi- 
ography touching this point. The doctors said that I went 
mad, this time two years ago, from overwork. I had not 
been then working more than usual, and what was usual 
with me had become easy. But I went mad because nothing 
came of my work. People would have understood my falling 
crazy if they had heard that the manuscripts on which I 
had spent seven years of my old life had all been used to 
light the fire with, like Carlyle's first volume of the French 
Revolution. But they could not understand that I should be 
the least annoyed, far less fall ill in a frantic manner, be- 
cause, after I had got them published, nobody believed a 
word of them. Yet the first calamity would only have been 
misfortune, — the second (the enduring calamity under 
which I toil) is humiliation, — resisted necessarily by a 
dangerous and lonely pride. 

I spoke just now of the "wounds" of which that fire in 
the flesh came; and if any one ask me faithfully, what the 
wounds were, I can faithfully give the answer of Zechariah's 
silenced messenger, "Those with which I was wounded in 
the house of my friends." All alike, in whom I had most 
trusted for help, failed me in this main work: some mocked 
at it, some pitied, some rebuked, — all stopped their ears at 
the cry: and the solitude at last became too great to be 
endured. . . . [Letter 88] 



FICTION, FAIR AND FOUL 



Essay I 

On the first mild — or, at least, the first bright — day of 
March, in this year, I walked through what was once a 
country lane, between the hostelry of the Half-moon at the 
bottom of Heme Hill, and the secluded College of Dulwich. 
In my young days, Croxted Lane was a green bye-road 
traversable for some distance by carts; but rarely so trav- 
ersed, and, for the most part, little else than a narrow strip 
of untilled field, separated by blackberry hedges from the 
better-cared-for meadows on each side of it: growing more 
weeds, therefore, than they, and perhaps in spring a prim- 
rose or two — white archangel — daisies plenty, and purple 
thistles in autumn. A slender rivulet, boasting little of its 
brightness, for there are no springs at Dulwich, yet fed 
purely enough by the rain and morning dew, here trickled 
— there loitered — through the long grass beneath the hedges, 
and expanded itself, where it might, into moderately clear 
and deep pools, in which, under their veils of duck-weed, 
a fresh-water shell or two, sundry curious little skipping 
shrimps, any quantity of tadpoles in their time, and even 
sometimes a tittlebat, offered themselves to my boyhood's 
pleased, and not inaccurate, observation. There, my mother 
and I used to gather the first buds of the hawthorn; and 
there, in after years, I used to walk in the summer shadows, 
as in a place wilder and sweeter than our garden, to think 
over any passage I wanted to make better than usual in 
Modern Painters. 



436 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

So, as aforesaid, on the first kindly day of this year, 
being thoughtful more than usual of those old times, I went 
to look again at the place. 

Often, both in those days, and since, I have put myself 
hard to it, vainly, to find words wherewith to tell of beauti- 
ful things; but beauty has been in the world since the 
world was made, and human language can make a shift, 
somehow, to give account of it, whereas the peculiar forces 
of devastation induced by modern city life have only en- 
tered the world lately; and no existing terms of language 
known to me are enough to describe the forms of filth, and 
modes of ruin, that varied themselves along the course of 
Croxted Lane. The fields on each side of it are now mostly 
dug up for building, or cut through into gaunt corners and 
nooks of blind ground by the wild crossings and concur- 
rencies of three railroads. Half a dozen handfuls of new 
cottages, with Doric doors, are dropped about here and 
there among the gashed ground: the lane itself, now entirely 
grassless, is a deep-rutted, heavy-hillocked cart-road, di- 
verging gatelessly into various brickfields or pieces of waste; 
and bordered on each side by heaps of — Hades only knows 
what! — mixed dust of every unclean thing that can crumble 
in draught, and mildew of every unclean thing that can rot 
or rust in damp: ashes and rags, beer-bottles and old shoes, 
battered pans, smashed crockery, shreds of nameless clothes, 
door-sweepings, floor-sweepings, kitchen garbage, back-gar- 
den sewage, old iron, rotten timber jagged with out-torn 
nails, cigar-ends, pipe-bowls, cinders, bones, and ordure, 
indescribable; and, variously kneaded into, sticking to, or 
fluttering foully here and there over all these, remnants, 
broadcast, of every manner of newspaper, advertisement or 
big-lettered bill, festering and flaunting out their last pub- 
licity in the pits of stinking dust and mortal slime. . . . 

It became matter of curious meditation to me what must 
here become of children resembling my poor little dreamy 
quondam self in temper, and thus brought up at the same 
distance from London, and in the same or better circum- 
stances of worldly fortune; but with only Croxted Lane in 



ESSAY I 437 

its present condition for their country walk. . . . For its 
sense or fancy, what food, or stimulus, can it find, in that 
foul causeway of its youthful pilgrimage? What would 
have happened to myself, so directed, I cannot clearly im- 
agine. Possibly, I might have got interested in the old iron 
and wood-shavings; and become an engineer or a carpenter: 
but for the children of to-day, accustomed, from the instant 
they are out of their cradles, to the sight of this infinite 
nastiness, prevailing as a fixed condition of the universe, 
over the face of nature, and accompanying all the opera- 
tions of industrious man, what is to be the scholastic issue? 
unless, indeed, the thrill of scientific vanity in the primary 
analysis of some unheard-of process of corruption — or the 
reward of microscopic research in the sight of worms with 
more legs, and acari of more curious generation than ever 
vivified the more simply smelling plasma of antiquity. 

One result of such elementary education is, however, 
already certain; namely, that the pleasure which we may 
conceive taken by the children of the coming time, in the 
analysis of physical corruption, guides, into fields more 
dangerous and desolate, the expatiation of an imaginative 
literature: and that the reactions of moral disease upon 
itself, and the conditions of languidly monstrous character 
developed in an atmosphere of low vitality, have become 
the most valued material of modern fiction, and the most 
eagerly discussed texts of modern philosophy. 

The many concurrent reasons for this mischief may, 
I believe, be massed under a few general heads. 

(I.) There is first the hot fermentation and unwholesome 
secrecy of the population crowded into large cities, each 
mote in the misery lighter, as an individual soul, than a 
dead leaf, but becoming oppressive and infectious each to 
his neighbour, in the smoking mass of decay. The resulting 
modes of mental ruin and distress are continually new; and 
in a certain sense, worth study in their monstrosity: they 
have accordingly developed a corresponding science of fic- 
tion, concerned mainly with the description of such forms 
of disease, like the botany of leaf-lichens. 



438 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

In De Balzac's story of Father Goriot, a grocer makes 
a large fortune, of which he spends on himself as much as 
may keep him alive; and on his two daughters, all that 
can promote their pleasures or their pride. He marries them 
to men of rank, supplies their secret expenses, and provides 
for his favourite a separate and clandestine establishment 
with her lover. On his deathbed, he sends for this favourite 
daughter, who wishes to come, and hesitates for a quarter 
of an hour between doing so, and going to a ball at which 
it has been for the last month her chief ambition to be seen. 
She finally goes to the ball. 

The story is, of course, one of which the violent con- 
trasts and spectral catastrophe could only take place, or be 
conceived, in a large city. A village grocer cannot make 
a large fortune, cannot marry his daughters to titled squires, 
and cannot die without having his children brought to him, 
if in the neighbourhood, by fear of village gossip, if for no 
better cause. 

(II.) But a much more profound feeling that this mere 
curiosity of science in morbid phenomena is concerned in 
the production of the carefullest forms of modern fiction. 
The disgrace and grief resulting from the mere trampling 
pressure and electric friction of town life, become to the 
sufferers peculiarly mysterious in their undeservedness, and 
frightful in their inevitableness. The power of all surround- 
ings over them for evil; the incapacity of their own minds 
to refuse the pollution, and of their own wills to oppose 
the weight, of the staggering mass that chokes and crushes 
them into perdition, brings every law of healthy existence 
into question with them, and every alleged method of help 
and hope into doubt. Indignation, without any calming 
faith in justice, and self-contempt, without any curative self- 
reproach, dull the intelligence, and degrade the conscience, 
into sullen incredulity of all sunshine outside the dunghill, 
or breeze beyond the wafting of its impurity; and at last 
a philosophy develops itself, partly satiric, partly consola- 
tory, concerned only with the regenerative vigour of ma- 
nure, and the necessary obscurities of fimetic Providence; 



ESSAY I 439 

showing how everybody's fault is somebody else's, how in- 
fection has no law, digestion no will, and profitable dirt no 
dishonour. 

And thus an elaborate and ingenious scholasticism, in 
what may be called the Divinity of Decomposition, has 
established itself in connection with the more recent forms 
of romance, giving them at once a complacent tone of 
clerical dignity, and an agreeable dash of heretical impu- 
dence; while the inculcated doctrine has the double advan- 
tage of needing no laborious scholarship for its foundation, 
and no painful self-denial for its practice. 

(III.) The monotony of life in the central streets of any 
great modern city, but especially in those of London, where 
every emotion intended to be derived by men from the 
sight of nature, or the sense of art, is forbidden for ever, 
leaves the craving of the heart for a sincere, yet changeful, 
interest, to be fed from one source only. Under natural 
conditions the degree of mental excitement necessary to 
bodily health is provided by the course of the seasons, and 
the various skill and fortune of agriculture. . . . The divine 
laws of seed-time which cannot be recalled, harvest which 
cannot be hastened, and winter in which no man can work, 
compel the impatiences and coveting of his heart into 
labour too submissive to be anxious, and rest too sweet to 
be wanton. What thought can enough comprehend the 
contrast between such life, and that in streets where sum- 
mer and winter are only alternations of heat and cold; 
where snow never fell white, nor sunshine clear; where the 
ground is only a pavement, and the sky no more than the 
glass roof of an arcade; where the utmost power of a storm 
is to choke the gutters, and the finest magic of spring, to 
change mud into dust: where — chief and most fatal differ- 
ence in state — there is no interest of occupation for any of 
the inhabitants but the routine of counter or desk within 
doors, and the effort to pass each other without collision 
outside; so that from morning to evening the only possible 
variation of the monotony of the hours, and lightening of 
the penalty of existence, must be some kind of mischief, 



440 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

limited, unless by more than ordinary godsend of fatality, 
to the fall of a horse, or the slitting of a pocket? 

I said that under these laws of inanition, the craving 
of the human heart for some kind of excitement could be 
supplied from one source only. It might have been thought 
by any other than a sternly tentative philosopher, that the 
denial of their natural food to human feelings would have 
provoked a reactionary desire for it; and that the dreariness 
of the street would have been gilded by dreams of pastoral 
felicity. Experience has shown the fact to be otherwise; the 
thoroughly trained Londoner can enjoy no other excite- 
ment than to which he has been accustomed, but asks for 
that in continually more ardent or more virulent concen- 
tration; and the ultimate power of fiction to entertain him 
is by varying to his fancy the modes, and denning for his 
dulness the horrors, of Death. In the single novel of Bleak 
House there are nine deaths (or left for death's, in the drop 
scene) carefully wrought out or led up to, either by way of 
pleasing surprise, as the baby's at the brickmaker's, or fin- 
ished in their threatenings and sufferings, with as much 
enjoyment as can be contrived in the anticipation, and as 
much pathology as can be concentrated in the description. 
Under the following varieties of method: — 

One by assassination Mr. Tulkinghorn. 

One by starvation, with phthisis . . Joe. 

One by chagrin Richard. 

One by spontaneous combustion . Mr. Krook. 

One by sorrow Lady Dedlock's lover. 

One by remorse Lady Dedlock. 

One by insanity Miss Flite. 

One by paralysis Sir Leicester. 

Besides the baby, by fever, and a lively young French- 
woman left to be hanged. 

And all this, observe, not in a tragic, adventurous, or 
military story, but merely as the further enlivenment of a 
narrative intended to be amusing; and as a properly repre- 



ESSAY I 441 

sentative average of the statistics of civilian mortality in 
the centre of London. 

Observe further, and chiefly. It is not the mere number of 
deaths (which, if we count the odd troopers in the last 
scene, is exceeded in Old Mortality, and reached, within 
one or two, both in Waverley and Guy Mannering) that 
marks the peculiar tone of the modern novel. It is the fact 
that all these deaths, but one, are of inoffensive, or at least 
in the world's estimate, respectable persons; and that they 
are all grotesquely either violent or miserable, purporting 
thus to illustrate the modern theology that the appointed 
destiny of a large average of our population is to die like 
rats in a drain, either by trap or poison. Not, indeed, that 
a lawyer in full practice can be usually supposed as fault- 
less in the eye of Heaven as a dove or a woodcock; but it is 
not, in former divinities, thought the will of Providence 
that he should be dropped by a shot from a client behind 
his fire-screen, and retrieved in the morning by his house- 
maid under the chandelier. Neither is Lady Dedlock less 
reprehensible in her conduct than many women of fashion 
have been and will be: but it would not therefore have 
been thought poetically just, in old-fashioned morality, that 
she should be found by her daughter lying dead, with her 
face in the mud of a St. Giles's churchyard. 

In the work of the great masters death is always either 
heroic, deserved, or quiet and natural (unless their purpose 
be totally and deeply tragic, when collateral meaner death 
is permitted, like that of Polonius or Roderigo) . In Old 
Mortality, four of the deaths, Bothwell's, Ensign Grahame's, 
Macbriar's, and Evandale's, are magnificently heroic; Bur- 
ley's and Olifant's long deserved, and swift; the troopers', 
met in the discharge of their military duty; and the old 
miser's, as gentle as the passing of a cloud. . . . 

Nor is it ever to be forgotten, in the comparison of 
Scott's with inferior work, that his own splendid powers 
were, even in early life, tainted, and in his latter years 
destroyed, by modern conditions of commercial excitement, 
then first, but rapidly, developing themselves. There are 



442 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

parts even in his best novels coloured to meet tastes which 
he despised; and many pages written in his later ones to 
lengthen his article for the indiscriminate market. 

But there was one weakness of which his healthy mind 
remained incapable to the last. In modern stories prepared 
for more refined or fastidious audiences than those of 
Dickens, the funereal excitement is obtained, for the most 
part, not by the infliction of violent or disgusting death; 
but in the suspense, the pathos, and the more or less by 
all felt, and recognized, mortal phenomena of the sick-room. 
The temptation, to weak writers, of this order of subject is 
especially great, because the study of it from the living — 
or dying — model is so easy, and to many has been the most 
impressive part of their own personal experience; while, 
if the description be given even with mediocre accuracy, 
a very large section of readers will admire its truth, and 
cherish its melancholy. Few authors of second or third rate 
genius can either record or invent a probable conversation 
in ordinary life; but few, on the other hand, are so desti- 
tute of observant faculty as to be unable to chronicle the 
broken syllables and languid movements of an invalid. 
The easily rendered, and too surely recognized, image of 
familiar suffering is felt at once to be real where all else 
had been false; and the historian of the gestures of fever 
and words of delirium can count on the applause of a grati- 
fied audience as surely as the dramatist who introduces on 
the stage of his flagging action a carriage that can be driven 
or a fountain that will flow. But the masters of strong im- 
agination disdain such work, and those of deep sensibility 
shrink from it.* Only under conditions of personal weak- 
ness, presently to be noted, would Scott comply with the 
cravings of his lower audience in scenes of terror like the 
death of Front-de-Bceuf. But he never once withdrew 
the sacred curtain of the sick-chamber, nor permitted the 

* Nell, in The Old Curiosity Shop, was simply killed for the market, 
as a butcher kills a lamb (see Forster's Life), and Paul was written 
under the same conditions of illness which affected Scott — a part of the 
ominous palsies, grasping alike author and subject both in Dombey and 
Little Dorrit. [Ruskin's note.] 



ESSAY I 443 

disgrace of wanton tears round the humiliation of strength, 
or the wreck of beauty. . . . 

The mean anxieties, moral humiliations, and mercilessly 
demanded brain-toil, which killed him, show their sepul- 
chral grasp for many and many a year before their final 
victory; and the states of more or less dulled, distorted, and 
polluted imagination which culminate in Castle Dangerous 
cast a Stygian hue over St. Ronan's Well, The Fair Maid 
of Perth, and Anne of Geier stein, which lowers them, the 
first altogether, the other two at frequent intervals, into 
fellowship with the normal disease which festers throughout 
the whole body of our lower fictitious literature. 

Fictitious! I use the ambiguous word deliberately; for it 
is impossible to distinguish in these tales of the prison- 
house how far their vice and gloom are thrown into their 
manufacture only to meet a vile demand, and how far they 
are an integral condition of thought in the minds of men 
trained from their youth up in the knowledge of Londinian 
and Parisian misery. The speciality of the plague is a delight 
in the exposition of the relations between guilt and decrepi- 
tude; and I call the results of it literature "of the prison- 
house," because the thwarted habits of body and mind, 
which are the punishment of reckless crowding in cities, 
become, in the issue of that punishment, frightful subjects 
of exclusive interest to themselves; and the art of fiction in 
which they finally delight is only the more studied arrange- 
ment and illustration, by coloured firelights, of the daily 
bulletins of their own wretchedness, in the prison calendar, 
the police news, and the hospital report. . . . 

But the effectual head of the whole cretinous school is 
the renowned novel in which the hunch-backed lover 
watches the execution of his mistress from the tower of 
Notre-Dame; and its strength passes gradually away into 
the anatomical preparations, for the general market, of 
novels like Poor Miss Finch* in which the heroine is blind, 
the hero epileptic, and the obnoxious brother is found dead 
with his hands dropped off, in the Arctic regions. 
* By Wilkie Collins, published in 1872. 



444 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

This literature of the Prison-house, understanding by 
the word not only the cell of Newgate, but also and even 
more definitely the cell of the Hotel-Dieu, the Hopital des 
Fous, and the grated corridor with the dripping slabs of 
the Morgue, having its central root thus in the lie de Paris 
— or historically and pre-eminently the "Cite de Paris" — 
is, when understood deeply, the precise counter-corruption 
of the religion of the Sainte Chapelle, just as the worst 
forms of bodily and mental ruin are the corruption of love. 
I have therefore called it "Fiction mecroyante," with literal 
accuracy and precision: according to the explanation of the 
word, which the reader may find in any good French dic- 
tionary, and round its Arctic pole in the Morgue, he may 
gather into one Caina of gelid putrescence the entire prod- 
uct of modern infidel imagination, amusing itself with 
destruction of the body, and busying itself with aberration 
of the mind. 

Aberration, palsy, or plague, observe, as distinguished 
from normal evil, just as the venom of rabies or cholera 
differs from that of a wasp or a viper. The life of the insect 
and serpent deserves, or at least permits, our thoughts; not 
so the stages of agony in the fury-driven hound. There is 
some excuse, indeed, for the pathologic labour of the 
modern novelist in the fact that he cannot easily, in a city 
population, find a healthy mind to vivisect: but the greater 
part of such amateur surgery is the struggle, in an epoch 
of wild literary competition, to obtain novelty of material. 
The varieties of aspect and colour in healthy fruit, be it 
sweet or sour, may be within certain limits described ex- 
haustively. Not so the blotches of its conceivable blight: 
and while the symmetries of integral human character can 
only be traced by harmonious and tender skill, like the 
branches of a living tree, the faults and gaps of one gnawed 
away by corroding accident can be shuffled into senseless 
change like the wards of a Chubb lock.* 

* An unpickable, tumbler lock, named after its inventor. 



THE STORM-CLOUD 

OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY 



Lecture I* 

Let me first assure my audience that I have no arriere 
pensee in the title chosen for this lecture. I might, indeed, 
have meant, and it would have been only too like me to 
mean, any number of things by such a title; — but, to-night, 
I mean simply what I have said, and propose to bring to 
your notice a series of cloud phenomena, which, so far as 
I can weigh existing evidence, are peculiar to our own 
times; yet which have not hitherto received any special 
notice or description from meteorologists. 

So far as the existing evidence, I say, of former literature 
can be interpreted, the storm-cloud — or more accurately 
plague-cloud, for it is not always stormy — which I am about 
to describe to you, never was seen but by now living, or 

* Delivered at the London Institution on February 4, 1884. A week 
later, in the final lecture, Ruskin told his audience that "had the 
weather when I was young been such as it is now, no book such as 
Modern Painters ever would or could have been written; for every 
argument, and every sentiment in that book, was founded on the 
personal experience of the beauty and blessing of nature, all spring 
and summer long; and on the then demonstrable fact that over a great 
portion of the world's surface the air and the earth were fitted to the 
education of the spirit of man as closely as a schoolboy's primer is to 
his labour, and as gloriously as a lover's mistress is to his eyes. 

"That harmony is now broken, and broken the world round: frag- 
ments, indeed, of what existed still exist, and hours of what is past 
still return; but month by month the darkness gains upon the day, 
and the ashes of the Antipodes glare through the night." 

The image of the glaring ashes alludes to the lurid and spectacular 
sunsets of the previous autumn, shortly after the explosion of the 
island of Krakatau. 



446 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

lately living eyes. It is not yet twenty years that this — I may 
well call it, wonderful — cloud has been, in its essence, recog- 
nizable. There is no description of it, so far as I have read, 
by any ancient observer. Neither Homer nor Virgil, neither 
Aristophanes nor Horace, acknowledge any such clouds 
among those compelled by Jove. Chaucer has no word of 
them, nor Dante; Milton none, nor Thomson. In modern 
times, Scott, Wordsworth, and Byron are alike unconscious 
of them; and the most observant and descriptive of scien- 
tific men, De Saussure,* is utterly silent concerning them. 
Taking up the traditions of air from the year before Scott's 
death, I am able, by my own constant and close observation, 
to certify you that in the forty following years (1831 to 
1871 approximately — for the phenomena in question came 
on gradually) — no such clouds as these are, and are now 
often for months without intermission, were ever seen in 
the skies of England, France, or Italy. 

In those old days, when weather was fine, it was luxuri- 
ously fine; when it was bad — it was often abominably bad, 
but it had its fit of temper and was done with it — it didn't 
sulk for three months without letting you see the sun, — nor 
send you one cyclone inside out, every Saturday afternoon, 
and another outside in, every Monday morning. 

In fine weather the sky was either blue or clear in its 
light; the clouds, either white or golden, adding to, not 
abating, the lustre of the sky. In wet weather, there were 
two different species of clouds, — those of beneficent rain, 
which for distinction's sake I will call the non-electric rain- 
cloud, and those of storm, usually charged highly with 
electricity. The beneficent rain-cloud was indeed often ex- 
tremely dull and grey for days together, but gracious never- 
theless, felt to be doing good, and often to be delightful 
after drought; capable also of the most exquisite colouring, 
under certain conditions; and continually traversed in clear- 

* Horace Benedict de Saussure, Ruskin's "master" in geology and the 
author of Voyages dans les Alpes (1779-96). 



LECTURE I 447 

ing by the rainbow: — and, secondly, the storm-cloud, always 
majestic, often dazzlingly beautiful, and felt also to be 
beneficent in its own way, affecting the mass of the air 
with vital agitation, and purging it from the impurity of 
all morbific elements. 

In the entire system of the Firmament, thus seen and 
understood, there appeared to be, to all the thinkers of 
those ages, the incontrovertible and unmistakable evidence 
of a Divine Power in creation, which had fitted, as the air 
for human breath, so the clouds for human sight and nour- 
ishment; — the Father who was in heaven feeding day by 
day the souls of His children with marvels, and satisfying 
them with bread, and so filling their hearts with food and 
gladness. . . . 

The first time I recognized the clouds brought by the 
plague-wind as distinct in character was in walking back 
from Oxford, after a hard day's work, to Abingdon, in the 
early spring of 1871: it would take too long to give you any 
account this evening of the particulars which drew my at- 
tention to them; but during the following months I had too 
frequent opportunities of verifying my first thoughts of 
them, and on the first of July in that year wrote the descrip- 
tion of them which begins the Fors Clavigera of August, 
thus: — 

"It is the first of July, and I sit down to write by the dis- 
mallest light that ever yet I wrote by; namely, the light of 
this midsummer morning, in mid-England (Matlock, Derby- 
shire), in the year 1871. 

"For the sky is covered with grey cloud; — not rain-cloud, 
but a dry black veil, which no ray of sunshine can pierce; 
partly diffused in mist, feeble mist, enough to make distant 
objects unintelligible, yet without any substance, or wreath- 
ing, or colour of its own. And everywhere the leaves of the 
trees are shaking fitfully, as they do before a thunderstorm; 
only not violently, but enough to show the passing to and 
fro of a strange, bitter, blighting wind. Dismal enough, had 



448 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

it been the first morning of its kind that summer had sent. 
But during all this spring, in London, and at Oxford, 
through meagre March, through changelessly sullen April, 
through despondent May, and darkened June, morning 
after morning has come grey-shrouded thus. 

"And it is a new thing to me, and a very dreadful one. I 
am fifty years old, and more; and since I was five, have 
gleaned the best hours of my life in the sun of spring and 
summer mornings; and I never saw such as these, till now. 

"And the scientific men are busy as ants, examining the 
sun and the moon, and the seven stars, and can tell me all 
about them, / believe, by this time; and how they move, and 
what they are made of. 

"And I do not care, for my part, two copper spangles how 
they move, nor what they are made of. I can't move them 
any other way than they go, nor make them of anything 
else, better than they are made. But I would care much and 
give much, if I could be told where this bitter wind comes 
from, and what it is made of. 

"For, perhaps, with forethought, and fine laboratory 
science, one might make it of something else. 

"It looks partly as if it were made of poisonous smoke; 
very possibly it may be: there are at least two hundred fur- 
nace chimneys in a square of two miles on every side of me. 
But mere smoke would not blow to and fro in that wild 
way. It looks more to me as if it were made of dead men's 
souls — such of them as are not gone yet where they have to 
go, and may be flitting hither and thither, doubting, them- 
selves, of the fittest place for them. 

"You know, if there are such things as souls, and if ever 
any of them haunt places where they have been hurt, there 
must be many above us, just now, displeased enough!" 

The last sentence refers of course to the battles of the 
Franco-German campaign, which was especially horrible to 
me, in its digging, as the Germans should have known, a 
moat flooded with waters of death between the two nations 
for a century to come. 



LECTURE I 449 

Since that Midsummer day, my attention, however other- 
wise occupied, has never relaxed in its record of the phe- 
nomena characteristic of the plague-wind; and I now define 
for you, as briefly as possible, the essential signs of it. 

(1.) It is a wind of darkness, — all the former conditions 
of tormenting winds, whether from the north or east, were 
more or less capable of co-existing with sunlight, and often 
with steady and bright sunlight; but whenever, and wher- 
ever the plague-wind blows, be it but for ten minutes, the 
sky is darkened instantly. 

(2.) It is a malignant quality of wind, unconnected with 
any one quarter of the compass; it blows indifferently from 
all, attaching its own bitterness and malice to the worst 
characters of the proper winds of each quarter. It will blow 
either with drenching rain, or dry rage, from the south, — 
with ruinous blasts from the west, — with bitterest chills 
from the north, — and with venomous blight from the east. 

Its own favourite quarter, however, is the south-west, so 
that it is distinguished in its malignity equally from the 
Bise of Provence, which is a north wind always, and from 
our own old friend, the east. 

(3.) It always blows tremulously, making the leaves of 
the trees shudder as if they were all aspens, but with a 
peculiar fitfulness which gives them — and I watch them 
this moment as I write — an expression of anger as well as 
of fear and distress. You may see the kind of quivering, 
and hear the ominous whimpering, in the gusts that precede 
a great thunderstorm; but plague-wind is more panic-struck, 
and feverish; and its sound is a hiss instead of a wail. 

When I was last at Avallon, in South France, I went to 
see Faust played at the little country theatre: it was done 
with scarcely any means of pictorial effect, except a few 
old curtains, and a blue light or two. But the night on the 
Brocken was nevertheless extremely appalling to me, — a 
strange ghastliness being obtained in some of the witch 
scenes merely by fine management of gesture and drapery; 
and in the phantom scenes, by the half-palsied, half-furious, 
faltering or fluttering past of phantoms stumbling as into 



450 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

graves; as if o£ not only soulless, but senseless, Dead, moving 
with the very action, the rage, the decrepitude, and the 
trembling of the plague-wind. 

(4.) Not only tremulous at every moment, it is also 
intermittent with a rapidity quite unexampled in former 
weather. There are, indeed, days — and weeks, on which it 
blows without cessation, and is as inevitable as the Gulf 
Stream; but also there are days when it is contending with 
healthy weather, and on such days it will remit for half 
an hour, and the sun will begin to show itself, and then 
the wind will come back and cover the whole sky with 
clouds in ten minutes; and so on, every half-hour, through 
the whole day; so that it is often impossible to go on with 
any kind of drawing in colour, the light being never for 
two seconds the same from morning till evening. 

(5.) It degrades, while it intensifies, ordinary storm; 
but before I read you any description of its efforts in this 
kind, I must correct an impression which has got abroad 
through the papers, that I speak as if the plague-wind blew 
now always, and there were no more any natural weather. 
On the contrary, the winter of 1878-9 was one of the most 
healthy and lovely I ever saw ice in; — Coniston lake shone 
under the calm clear frost in one marble field, as strong as 
the floor of Milan Cathedral, half a mile across and four 
miles down; and the first entries in my diary which I read 
you shall be from the 22nd to 26th June, 1876, of perfectly 
lovely and natural weather: . . . 

"Monday, 26th June, 1876. 

Yesterday an entirely perfect summer light on the Old 
Man; Lancaster Bay all clear; Ingleborough and the great 
Pennine fault as on a map. Divine beauty of western colour 
on thyme and rose, — then twilight of clearest warm amber 
far into night, of pale amber all night long; hills dark-clear 
against it. 

"And so it continued, only growing more intense in blue 
and sunlight, all day. After breakfast, I came in from the 
well under strawberry bed, to say I had never seen anything 



LECTURE I 451 

like it, so pure or intense, in Italy; and so it went glowing 
on, cloudless, with soft north wind, all day." 

"16th July. 
"The sunset almost too bright through the blinds for me 
to read Humboldt at tea by, — finally, new moon like a 
lime-light, reflected on breeze-struck water; traces, across 
dark calm, of reflected hills." 

These extracts are, I hope, enough to guard you against 
the absurdity of supposing that it only means that I am 
myself soured, or doting, in my old age, and always in an 
ill humour. Depend upon it, when old men are worth any- 
thing, they are better-humoured than young ones; and have 
learned to see what good there is, and pleasantness, in the 
world they are likely so soon to have orders to quit. 

Now then — take the following sequences of accurate de- 
scription of thunderstorm, with plague-wind. . . . 

"Brantwood, 13th August, 1879. 

"The most terrific and horrible thunderstorm, this morn- 
ing, I ever remember. It waked me at six, or a little before 
— then rolling incessantly, like railway luggage trains, quite 
ghastly in its mockery of them — the air one loathsome 
mass of sultry and foul fog, like smoke; scarcely raining at 
all, but increasing to heavier rollings, with flashes quivering 
vaguely through all the air, and at last terrific double 
streams of reddish-violent fire, not forked or zigzag, but 
rippled rivulets — two at the same instant some twenty to 
thirty degrees apart, and lasting on the eye at least half 
a second, with grand artillery-peals following; not rattling 
crashes, or irregular cracklings, but delivered volleys. It 
lasted an hour, then passed off, clearing a little, without 
rain to speak of, — not a glimpse of blue, — and now, half- 
past seven, seems settling down again into Manchester 
devil's darkness. 

"Quarter to eight, morning. — Thunder returned, all the 
air collapsed into one black fog, the hills invisible, and 



452 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

scarcely visible the opposite shore; heavy rain in short fits, 
and frequent though less formidable, flashes, and shorter 
thunder. While I have written this sentence the cloud has 
again dissolved itself, like a nasty solution in a bottle, with 
miraculous and unnatural rapidity, and the hills are in 
sight again; a double-forked flash — rippled, I mean, like 
the others — starts into its frightful ladder of light between 
me and Wetherlam, as I raise my eyes. All black above, 
a rugged spray cloud on the Eaglet. (The 'Eaglet' is my 
own name for the bold and elevated crag to the west of 
the little lake above Coniston mines. It had no name 
among the country people, and is one of the most con- 
spicuous features of the mountain chain, as seen from Brant- 
wood.) 

"Half-past eight. — Three times light and three times 
dark since last I wrote, and the darkness seeming each time 
as it settles more loathsome, at last stopping my reading 
in mere blindness. One lurid gleam of white cumulus in 
upper lead-blue sky, seen for half a minute through the sul- 
phurous chimney-pot vomit of blackguardly cloud beneath, 
where its rags were thinnest." 

"Thursday, 22nd Feb. 1883. 

"Yesterday a fearfully dark mist all afternoon, with 
steady, south plague-wind of the bitterest, nastiest, poison- 
ous blight, and fretful flutter. I could scarcely stay in the 
wood for the horror of it. To-day, really rather bright 
blue, and bright semi-cumuli, with the frantic Old Man 
blowing sheaves of lancets and chisels across the lake — 
not in strength enough, or whirl enough, to raise it in 
spray, but tracing every squall's outline in black on the 
silver grey waves, and whistling meanly, and as if on a 
flute made of a file." 

"Sunday, 17 th August, 1879. 

"Raining in foul drizzle, slow and steady; sky pitch- 
dark, and I just get a little light by sitting in the bow- 
window; diabolic clouds over everything: and looking over 
my kitchen garden yesterday, I found it one miserable 



LECTURE I 453 

mass of weeds gone to seed, the roses in the higher garden 
putrefied into brown sponges, feeling like dead snails; and 
the half-ripe strawberries all rotten at the stalks." 

(6.) And now I come to the most important sign of the 
plague-wind and the plague-cloud: that in bringing on 
their peculiar darkness, they blanch the sun instead of red- 
dening it. And here I must note briefly to you the useless- 
ness of observation by instruments, or machines, instead 
of eyes. In the first year when I had begun to notice the 
specialty of the plague-wind, I went of course to the Oxford 
observatory to consult its registrars. They have their ane- 
mometer always on the twirl, and can tell you the force, or 
at least the pace, of a gale, by day or night. But the ane- 
mometer can only record for you how often it has been 
driven round, not at all whether it went round steadily, 
or went round trembling. And on that point depends the 
entire question whether it is a plague breeze or a healthy 
one: and what's the use of telling you whether the wind's 
strong or not, when it can't tell you whether it's a strong 
medicine, or a strong poison? . . . 

Blanched Sun, — blighted grass — blinded man. — If, in 
conclusion, you ask me for any conceivable cause or mean- 
ing of these things — I can tell you none, according to your 
modern beliefs; but I can tell you what meaning it would 
have borne to the men of old time. Remember, for the last 
twenty years, England, and all foreign nations, either tempt- 
ing her, or following her, have blasphemed the name of 
God deliberately and openly; and have done iniquity by 
proclamation, every man doing as much injustice to his 
brother as it is in his power to do. Of states in such moral 
gloom every seer of old predicted the physical gloom, 
saying, "The light shall be darkened in the heavens thereof, 
and the stars shall withdraw their shining." All Greek, all 
Christian, all Jewish prophecy insists on the same truth 
through a thousand myths; but of all the chief, to former 



454 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

thought, was the fable of the Jewish warrior and prophet, 
for whom the sun hasted not to go down, with which I 
leave you to compare at leisure the physical result of your 
own wars and prophecies, as declared by your own elect 
journal not fourteen days ago, — that the Empire of Eng- 
land, on which formerly the sun never set, has become one 
on which he never rises.* 

What is best to be done, do you ask me? The answer is 
plain. Whether you can affect the signs of the sky or not, 
you can the signs of the times. Whether you can bring the 
sun back or not, you can assuredly bring back your own 
cheerfulness, and your own honesty. You may not be able to 
say to the winds, "Peace; be still," but you can cease from 
the insolence of your own lips, and the troubling of your 
own passions. And all that it would be extremely well to do, 
even though the day were coming when the sun should be 
as darkness, and the moon as blood. But, the paths of recti- 
tude and piety once regained, who shall say that the 
promise of old time would not be found to hold for us 
also? — "Bring ye all the tithes into my storehouse, and 
prove me now herewith, saith the Lord God, if I will not 
open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a bless- 
ing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." 



* On January 2, the Pall Mall Gazette reported that the year in Lon- 
don had ended with a totally sunless week. In the month preceding 
Ruskin's lecture, the sun shone for an average of less than an hour a 
day. 



Self 



In Fors Clavigera Ruskin had interspersed autobiograph- 
ical reminiscences of great calm and clarity among passages 
of ferocious invective. In The Storm-Cloud of the Nine- 
teenth Century he purged the unspent portion of his wrath 
in a raging, apocalyptic denunciation of the whole cen- 
tury, from its fouled skies to its festering cities. Lecturing 
on The Storm-Cloud was the act of exorcism which enabled 
him to write Prceterita. Although the cloud did not pass 
from Ruskin's life, it lifted from his writing the moment he 
turned to the past. Thereafter he mentioned only in his 
letters and diaries the wasted, malevolent nature he per- 
ceived everywhere in the present. The great invocations in 
Prceterita to the skies and mountains mark his return to 
the sacred nature he had worshiped in Modern Painters 
and could again perceive with the ecstatic vision of his 
youth. 

Prceterita was published at irregular intervals between 
1885 and 1889, when a final siege of madness left Ruskin 
capable of little more than signing his name. These last 
years of consciousness were the bleakest of his life; yet they 
produced the most charming autobiography in English and 
the only book Ruskin wrote with the intention of giving 
pleasure. He succeeded largely because of what he chose to 
omit* or was later compelled to leave unwritten. As origi- 

* The cardinal omission is Ruskin's marriage, which he passes over 
in total silence. See the Preface to Prceterita, below. 



456 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

nally planned, the book was to have traced the course of his 
life until the death of Rose La Touche in 1875. In its final 
form, the last event is the death of his father in 1864. We 
catch no glimpse of Ruskin's embattled, embittered years of 
social criticism or the still darker years of his decline. Rose 
appears at the very end of Prceterita, but only as a child who 
once walked with him in the garden of Denmark Hill. 
One never learns of the torment of their progressive es- 
trangement, nor of her premature death, fever-wracked and 
insane. As the past encroached too painfully on the present, 
he lost control of his material and had to abandon the book. 

Ruskin once described Prceterita as "the 'natural' me — 
only . . . peeled carefully." He felt no compulsion to confess 
what he took no pleasure in recalling. His own unhurried 
delight — expansive, immediate, unbroken — in the people 
and places that had once delighted him is the heart of the 
book. Quite naturally, Ruskin himself was one of the people 
he found most interesting. No writer was more self-absorbed 
than he, but none ever had a more fascinating subject. To 
use his own phrase, Prceterita describes the effect on his 
mind of meeting himself, by turning back, face to face. His 
egoism was unabashed yet uncannily objective, at once self- 
obsessed and ironically detached. 

To pass from Fors or The Storm-Cloud to Prceterita is to 
enter another world, in which pain has yielded to under- 
standing, chaos to order, passion to peace. The tone of 
Ruskin's early writing is lyrical; that of his middle period 
is tragic; but his last book, like Shakespeare's last plays, 
exists in the uncharted realm beyond tragedy. The felicity 
of Prceterita was, paradoxically, a product of the very mad- 
ness which forced Ruskin to abandon the book. By alienat- 
ing him from the present, his illnesses brought the past into 
serene and crystalline focus, giving him the detachment he 
needed in order to write engagingly about a child who was 
whipped whenever it cried. 

One feels an uncanny closeness to the objects and events 
Ruskin describes in Prceterita, together with his own remote- 



SELF 457 

ness from whatever anguish they aroused. The recall is total, 
yet totally unembittered. He sensed nothing strange in his 
enforced isolation from other children, the austerity of his 
nursery, or the unbending aloofness of his parents. During 
the day he stared at things with rapturous and riveted at- 
tention. In the evenings he sat recessed like "an Idol in a 
Niche" at his own table in the drawing room, while his 
mother knitted and his father read aloud. No household 
was ever more quietly self-engrossed, and none could have 
drawn out his eccentric genius more fully. 

The very lack of distractions, including the distraction 
even of love, forced Ruskin to develop his analytic gifts 
almost from infancy. Sight and insight became a single in- 
stinctive act, the one unfailing pleasure of his life. It was 
perforce a solitary pleasure, and hence Prceterita is filled 
with things stared at in the privacy of his visual ecstasy. He 
led the most isolated of lives, yet was the most urgently com- 
municative of writers, escaping through his words the soli- 
tude to which his eyes confined him. 

To see clearly, he wrote in Modern Painters, is poetry, 
prophecy, and religion all in one. Preserving what he had 
seen was a sacred duty, and his notebooks and sketches were 
the reliquaries of his experience. With their aid he could 
recall not a memory of a memory but the terror or delight, 
taste or touch, of first contact. This clarity of recall so at- 
tracted Proust to Prceterita that he came to know it by 
heart. Proust also discovered a technique of composition, 
dependent upon memory, which Ruskin had employed be- 
fore but never so effectively. The elusive unity of Prceterita 
stems from a series of linked images — the springs of the 
River Wandel, the crystal waters of the River Tay — which 
function like a recurrent musical phrase. Prceterita is a tis- 
sue of these intertwined motifs, at times scarcely glimpsed 
and at times elaborated with "une vision au ralenti, presque 
microscopique," to use the phrase Andre Maurois applied 
both to Proust and Ruskin. 

Although the book was written in lucid intervals between 



458 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

seizures of madness, only at the end of Volume II does one 
sense that Ruskin's mind was failing. He suspended publi- 
cation for six months and in May of 1888 issued the superb 
opening chapter of the final volume, "The Grande Char- 
treuse." Ruskin's account of his uncon version at the end 
of the chapter is one of the most exquisitely written passages 
in all of Prceterita. Again one is struck by the resilience of 
a mind which could triumph over such frequent and violent 
derangement. 

But Ruskin could no longer evade the coming of the 
night wherein no man can work. He was already living a 
posthumous existence when he began the last chapter, 
"Joanna's Care," in the spring of 1889. It was intended as 
a thank offering to Joan Severn, his Scottish cousin who at 
the age of seventeen came to live at Denmark Hill and later 
nursed him through his illnesses, bringing up her children 
in the shadow of his madness. But he could not carry the 
story beyond her arrival at the Ruskin household. The nar- 
rative began to move in reverse as the associations evoked by 
her native Scotland led him helplessly into a long digression 
on the landscape of Scott's novels. 

Ruskin's hand had become so unsteady that he was forced 
to dictate most of "Joanna's Care" to Mrs. Severn. As she 
recorded his infinitely grateful but confused words, he saw 
by his side not a middle-aged matron but "my little 
Joanie." And in place of the dying Rose of the 1870s, his 
memory offered him the fairer image of a young girl in his 
garden, where he had once known "the peace, and hope, 
and loveliness of . . . Elysian walks with Joanie, and Para- 
disiacal with Rosie, under the peach-blossom branches by 
the little glittering stream which I had paved with crystal 
for them. . . . 'Eden-land' Rosie calls it." Calls rather than 
called because time no longer separated his recollection from 
her words themselves. In the closing paragraphs of Prceterita 
Ruskin had finally recaptured the past. But it was a barren 
victory, for at the moment of achievement his mind became 
a blank, and so remained until his death in 1900. 



SELF 459 

It is surprising that Ruskin could have written Prceterita 
at all; it is astonishing that he wrote so great a book under 
such great adversity. His life was a long, unavailing struggle 
to preserve his mental balance. In his works, however, his 
sanity triumphs over his sickness and his words retain their 
life. Reading Modern Painters still gives one new eyes; read- 
ing Fors Clavigera enlarges one's insight into consciousness; 
and the message of Unto This Last — "the message that ye 
have heard from the beginning, that we love one another" — 
appears insane only in a world that is itself insane. 

-J. D. R. 



PRAETE RITA 



Preface 

I have written these sketches of effort and incident in 
former years for my friends; and for those of the public 
who have been pleased by my books. 

I have written them therefore, frankly, garrulously, and 
at ease; speaking, of what it gives me joy to remember, at 
any length I like — sometimes very carefully of what I think 
it may be useful for others to know; and passing in total 
silence things which I have no pleasure in reviewing, and 
which the reader would find no help in the account of. My 
described life has thus become more amusing than I ex- 
pected to myself, as I summoned its long past scenes for 
present scrutiny: — its main methods of study, and principles 
of work, I feel justified in commending to other students; 
and very certainly any habitual readers of my books will 
understand them better, for having knowledge as complete 
as I can give them of the personal character which, without 
endeavour to conceal, I yet have never taken pains to dis- 
play, and even, now and then, felt some freakish pleasure in 
exposing to the chance of misinterpretation. 

I write these few prefatory words on my father's birthday, 
in what was once my nursery in his old house, — to which 
he brought my mother and me, sixty-two years since, I being 
then four years old. What would otherwise in the following 
pages have been little more than an old man's recreation in 
gathering visionary flowers in fields of youth, has taken, as 
I wrote, the nobler aspect of a dutiful offering at the grave 



THE SPRINGS OF WANDEL 461 



of parents who trained my childhood to all the good it could 
attain, and whose memory makes declining life cheerful in 
the hope of being soon again with them. 
Herne Hill, 10^ May, 1885. 



The Springs of Wandel* 

I am, and my father was before me, a violent Tory of the 
old school; — Walter Scott's school, that is to say, and 
Homer's. I name these two out of the numberless great Tory 
writers, because they were my own two masters. I had Wal- 
ter Scott's novels, and the Iliad (Pope's translation), for 
constant reading when I was a child, on week-days: on 
Sunday, their effect was tempered by Robinson Crusoe and 
the Pilgrim's Progress; my mother having it deeply in her 
heart to make an evangelical clergyman of me. Fortunately, 
I had an aunt more evangelical than my mother; and my 
aunt gave me cold mutton for Sunday's dinner, which — as 
I much preferred it hot — greatly diminished the influence 
of the Pilgrim's Progress; and the end of the matter was, 
that I got all the noble imaginative teaching of Defoe and 
Bunyan, and yet — am not an evangelical clergyman. 

I had, however, still better teaching than theirs, and that 
compulsorily, and every day of the week. 

Walter Scott and Pope's Homer were reading of my own 
election, and my mother forced me, by steady daily toil, to 
learn long chapters of the Bible by heart; as well as to read 
it every syllable through, aloud, hard names and all, from 
Genesis to the Apocalypse, about once a year: and to that 
discipline — patient, accurate, and resolute — I owe, not only 
a knowledge of the book, which I find occasionally service- 
able, but much of my general power of taking pains, and the 
best part of my taste in literature. From Walter Scott's 

* Ruskin reprinted the major part of the first two chapters, with slight 
revision, from Fors Clavigera. However, over nine-tenths of Prceterita 
consists of new material written between 1885 and 1889. 



462 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

novels I might easily, as I grew older, have fallen to other 
people's novels; and Pope might, perhaps, have led me to 
take Johnson's English, or Gibbon's, as types of language; 
but, once knowing the 32nd of Deuteronomy, the 119th 
Psalm, the 15th of 1st Corinthians, the Sermon on the 
Mount, and most of the Apocalypse, every syllable by heart, 
and having always a way of thinking with myself what 
words meant, it was not possible for me, even in the foolish- 
est times of youth, to write entirely superficial or formal 
English; and the affectation of trying to write like Hooker 
and George Herbert was the most innocent I could have 
fallen into. 

From my own chosen masters, then, Scott and Homer, 
I learned the Toryism which my best after-thought has only 
served to confirm. 

That is to say, a most sincere love of kings, and dislike of 
everybody who attempted to disobey them. Only, both by 
Homer and Scott, I was taught strange ideas about kings, 
which I find for the present much obsolete; for, I perceived 
that both the author of the Iliad and the author of Waver- 
ley made their kings, or king-loving persons, do harder work 
than anybody else. Tydides or Idomeneus always killed 
twenty Trojans to other people's one, and Redgauntlet 
speared more salmon than any of the Solway fishermen; and 
— which was particularly a subject of admiration to me — I 
observed that they not only did more, but in proportion to 
their doings got less, than other people — nay, that the best 
of them were even ready to govern for nothing! and let 
their followers divide any quantity of spoil or profit. Of 
late it has seemed to me that the idea of a king has become 
exactly the contrary of this, and that it has been supposed 
the duty of superior persons generally to govern less, and 
get more, than anybody else. So that it was, perhaps, quite 
as well that in those early days my contemplation of existent 
kingship was a very distant one. 

The aunt who gave me cold mutton on Sundays was my 
father's sister: she lived at Bridge-end, in the town of Perth, 



THE SPRINGS OF WANDEL 463 

and had a garden full of gooseberry-bushes, sloping down 
to the Tay, with a door opening to the water, which ran past 
it, clear-brown over the pebbles three or four feet deep; 
swift-eddying, — an infinite thing for a child to look down 
into. 

My father began business as a wine-merchant, with no 
capital, and a considerable amount of debts bequeathed 
him by my grandfather.* He accepted the bequest, and 
paid them all before he began to lay by anything for him- 
self, — for which his best friends called him a fool, and I, 
without expressing any opinion as to his wisdom, which I 
knew in such matters to be at least equal to mine, have writ- 
ten on the granite slab over his grave that he was "an en- 
tirely honest merchant." As days went on he was able to take 
a house in Hunter Street, Brunswick Square, No. 54, (the 
windows of it, fortunately for me, commanded a view of a 
marvellous iron post, out of which the water-carts were filled 
through beautiful litle trapdoors, by pipes like boa-con- 
strictors; and I was never weary of contemplating that mys- 
tery, and the delicious dripping consequent); and as years 
went on, and I came to be four or five years old, he could 
command a postchaise and pair for two months in the sum- 
mer, by help of which, with my mother and me, he went 
the round of his country customers (who liked to see the 
principal of the house his own traveller); so that, at a jog- 
trot pace, and through the panoramic opening of the four 
windows of a postchaise, made more panoramic still to me 
because my seat was a little bracket in front, (for we used to 
hire the chaise regularly for the two months out of Long 
Acre, and so could have it bracketed and pocketed as we 
liked,) I saw all the high-roads, and most of the cross ones, 
of England and Wales; and great part of lowland Scotland, 
as far as Perth, where every other year we spent the whole 
summer: and I used to read the Abbot at Kinross, and the 
Monastery in Glen Farg, which I confused with "Glen- 

* John Thomas Ruskin, who had gone mad and taken his own life in 
1817, a year before Ruskin's parents — first cousins — were married. 



464 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

dearg," and thought that the White Lady had as certainly 
lived by the streamlet in that glen of the Ochils, as the 
Queen of Scots in the island of Loch Leven. 

To my farther great benefit, as I grew older, I thus saw 
nearly all the noblemen's houses in England; in reverent 
and healthy delight of uncovetous admiration, — perceiving, 
as soon as I could perceive any political truth at all, that it 
was probably much happier to live in a small house, and 
have Warwick Castle to be astonished at, than to live in 
Warwick Castle and have nothing to be astonished at; but 
that, at all events, it would not make Brunswick Square in 
the least more pleasantly habitable, to pull Warwick Castle 
down. And at this day, though I have kind invitations 
enough to visit America, I could not, even for a couple of 
months, live in a country so miserable as to possess no 
castles. 

Nevertheless, having formed my notion of kinghood 
chiefly from the Fitzjames of the Lady of the Lake, and of 
noblesse from the Douglas there, and the Douglas in 
Marmion, a painful wonder soon arose in my child-mind, 
why the castles should now be always empty. Tantallon 
was there; but no Archibald of Angus: — Stirling, but no 
Knight of Snowdoun. The galleries and gardens of England 
were beautiful to see — but his Lordship and her Ladyship 
were always in town, said the housekeepers and gardeners. 
Deep yearning took hold of me for a kind of "Restoration," 
which I began slowly to feel that Charles the Second had 
not altogether effected, though I always wore a gilded oak- 
apple very piously in my button-hole on the 29th of May. It 
seemed to me that Charles the Second's Restoration had 
been, as compared with the Restoration I wanted, much as 
that gilded oak-apple to a real apple. And as I grew wiser, 
the desire for sweet pippins instead of bitter ones, and Liv- 
ing Kings instead of dead ones, appeared to me rational as 
well as romantic; and gradually it has become the main 
purpose of my life to grow pippins, and its chief hope, to 
see Kings. 



THE SPRINGS OF WANDEL 465 

I have never been able to trace these prejudices to any 
royalty of descent: of my father's ancestors I know nothing, 
nor of my mother's more than that my maternal grand- 
mother was the landlady of the Old King's Head in Market 
Street, Croydon; and I wish she were alive again, and I 
could paint her Simone Memmi's King's Head, for a sign. 

My maternal grandfather was, as I have said, a sailor, who 
used to embark, like Robinson Crusoe, at Yarmouth, and 
come back at rare intervals, making himself very delightful 
at home. I have an idea he had something to do with the 
herring business, but am not clear on that point; my mother 
never being much communicative concerning it. He spoiled 
her, and her (younger) sister, with all his heart, when he was 
at home; unless there appeared any tendency to equivoca- 
tion, or imaginative statements, on the part of the children, 
which were always unforgiveable. My mother being once 
perceived by him to have distinctly told him a lie, he sent 
the servant out forthwith to buy an entire bundle of new 
broom twigs to whip her with. "They did not hurt me so 
much as one" (twig) "would have done," said my mother, 
"but I thought a good deal of it." 

My maternal grandfather was killed at two-and-thirty, 
by trying to ride, instead of walk, into Croydon; he got his 
leg crushed by his horse against a wall; and died of the 
hurt's mortifying. My mother was then seven or eight years 
old, and, with her sister, was sent to quite a fashionable (for 
Croydon) day-school, Mrs. Rice's: where my mother was 
taught evangelical principles, and became the pattern girl 
and best needlewoman in the school; and where my aunt 
absolutely refused evangelical principles, and became the 
plague and pet of it. 

My mother, being a girl of great power, with not a little 
pride, grew more and more exemplary in her entirely con- 
scientious career, much laughed at, though much beloved, 
by her sister; who had more wit, less pride, and no con- 
science. At last my mother, formed into a consummate 
housewife, was sent for to Scotland to take care of my 



466 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

paternal grandfather's house; who was gradually ruining 
himself; and who at last effectually ruined, and killed, him- 
self. My father came up to London; was a clerk in a mer- 
chant's house for nine years, without a holiday; then began 
business on his own account; paid his father's debts; and 
married his exemplary Croydon cousin. 

Meantime my aunt had remained in Croydon, and mar- 
ried a baker. By the time I was four years old, and begin- 
ning to recollect things, — my father rapidly taking higher 
commercial position in London, — there was traceable — 
though to me, as a child, wholly incomprehensible, — just 
the least possible shade of shyness on the part of Hunter 
Street, Brunswick Square, towards Market Street, Croydon. 
But whenever my father was ill, — and hard work and sorrow 
had already set their mark on him, — we all went down to 
Croydon to be petted by my homely aunt; and walk on Dup- 
pas Hill, and on the heather of Addington. 

My aunt lived in the little house still standing — or which 
was so four months ago — the fashionablest in Market Street, 
having actually two windows over the shop, in the second 
story; but I never troubled myself about that superior part 
of the mansion, unless my father happened to be making 
drawings in Indian ink, when I would sit reverently by 
and watch; my chosen domains being, at all other times, the 
shop, the bakehouse, and the stones round the spring of 
crystal water at the back door (long since let down into the 
modern sewer); and my chief companion, my aunt's dog, 
Towzer, whom she had taken pity on when he was a snap- 
pish, starved vagrant; and made a brave and affectionate 
dog of: which was the kind of thing she did for every living 
creature that came in her way, all her life long. 

Contented, by help of these occasional glimpses of the 
rivers of Paradise, I lived until I was more than four years 
old in Hunter Street, Brunswick Square, the greater part of 
the year; for a few weeks in the summer breathing country 
air by taking lodgings in small cottages (real cottages, not 
villas, so-called) either about Hampstead, or at Dulwich, at 



THE SPRINGS OF WANDEL 467 

"Mrs. Ridley's," the last o£ a row in a lane which led out 
into the Dulwich fields on one side, and was itself full of 
buttercups in spring, and blackberries in autumn. But my 
chief remaining impressions of those days are attached to 
Hunter Street. My mother's general principles of first treat- 
ment were, to guard me with steady watchfulness from all 
avoidable pain or danger; and, for the rest, to let me amuse 
myself as I liked, provided I was neither fretful nor trouble- 
some. But the law was, that I should find my own amuse- 
ment. No toys of any kind were at first allowed; — and the 
pity of my Croydon aunt for my monastic poverty in this 
respect was boundless. On one of my birthdays, thinking to 
overcome my mother's resolution by splendour of tempta- 
tion, she bought the most radiant Punch and Judy she could 
find in all the Soho bazaar — as big as a real Punch and 
Judy, all dressed in scarlet and gold, and that would dance, 
tied to the leg of a chair. I must have been greatly im- 
pressed, for I remember well the look of the two figures, as 
my aunt herself exhibited their virtues. My mother was 
obliged to accept them; but afterwards quietly told me it 
was not right that I should have them; and I never saw 
them again. 

Nor did I painfully wish, what I was never permitted for 
an instant to hope, or even imagine, the possession of such 
things as one saw in toy-shops. I had a bunch of keys to 
play with, as long as I was capable only of pleasure in what 
glittered and jingled; as I grew older, I had a cart, and a 
ball; and when I was five or six years old, two boxes of well- 
cut wooden bricks. With these modest, but, I still think, 
entirely sufficient possessions, and being always summarily 
whipped if I cried, did not do as I was bid, or tumbled on 
the stairs, I soon attained serene and secure methods of life 
and motion; and could pass my days contentedly in tracing 
the squares and comparing the colours of my carpet; — ex- 
amining the knots in the wood of the floor, or counting the 
bricks in the opposite houses; with rapturous intervals of 
excitement during the filling of the water-cart, through its 



468 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

leathern pipe, from the dripping iron post at the pavement 
edge; or the still more admirable proceedings of the turn- 
cock, when he turned and turned till a fountain sprang up 
in the middle of the street. But the carpet, and what pat- 
terns I could find in bed-covers, dresses, or wall-papers to be 
examined, were my chief resources, and my attention to the 
particulars in these was soon so accurate, that when at three 
and a half I was taken to have my portrait painted by Mr. 
Northcote, I had not been ten minutes alone with him be- 
fore I asked him why there were holes in his carpet. The 
portrait in question represents a very pretty child with yel- 
low hair, dressed in a white frock like a girl, with a broad 
light-blue sash and blue shoes to match; the feet of the child 
wholesomely large in proportion to its body; and the shoes 
still more wholesomely large in proportion to the feet. 

These articles of my daily dress were all sent to the old 
painter for perfect realization; but they appear in the pic- 
ture more remarkable than they were in my nursery, be- 
cause I am represented as running in a field at the edge 
of a wood with the trunks of its trees striped across in the 
manner of Sir Joshua Reynolds; while two rounded hills, as 
blue as my shoes, appear in the distance, which were put in 
by the painter at my own request; for I had already been 
once, if not twice, taken to Scotland; and my Scottish nurse 
having always sung to me as we approached the Tweed or 
Esk,— 

"For Scotland, my darling, lies full in thy view, 
With her barefooted lassies, and mountains so blue,'* 

the idea of distant hills was connected in my mind with 
approach to the extreme felicities of life, in my Scottish 
aunt's garden of gooseberry bushes, sloping to the Tay. But 
that, when old Mr. Northcote asked me (little thinking, I 
fancy, to get any answer so explicit) what I would like to 
have in the distance of my picture, I should have said "blue 
hills" instead of "gooseberry bushes," appears to me — and 
I think without any morbid tendency to think over-much 



THE SPRINGS OF WANDEL 469 

of myself — a fact sufficiently curious, and not without prom- 
ise, in a child of that age. 

I think it should be related also that having, as aforesaid, 
been steadily whipped if I was troublesome, my formed 
habit of serenity was greatly pleasing to the old painter; 
for I sat contentedly motionless, counting the holes in his 
carpet, or watching him squeeze his paint out of its blad- 
ders, — a beautiful operation, indeed, to my thinking; — but 
I do not remember taking any interest in Mr. Northcote's 
application of the pigments to the canvas; my ideas of de- 
lightful art, in that respect, involving indispensably the 
possession of a large pot, filled with paint of the brightest 
green, and of a brush which would come out of it soppy. 
But my quietude was so pleasing to the old man that he 
begged my father and mother to let me sit to him for the 
face of a child which he was painting in a classical subject; 
where I was accordingly represented as reclining on a leop- 
ard skin, and having a thorn taken out of my foot by a wild 
man of the woods. 

In all these particulars, I think the treatment, or acci- 
dental conditions, of my childhood, entirely right, for a 
child of my temperament: but the mode of my introduction 
to literature appears to me questionable, and I am not pre- 
pared to carry it out in St. George's schools, without much 
modification. I absolutely declined to learn to read by 
syllables; but would get an entire sentence by heart with 
great facility, and point with accuracy to every word in the 
page as I repeated it. As, however, when the words were 
once displaced, I had no more to say, my mother gave up, 
for the time, the endeavour to teach me to read, hoping 
only that I might consent, in process of years, to adopt the 
popular system of syllabic study. But I went on to amuse 
myself, in my own way, learnt whole words at a time, as I 
did patterns; and at five years old was sending for my "sec- 
ond volumes" to the circulating library. 

This effort to learn the words in their collective aspect, 
was assisted by my real admiration of the look of printed 



470 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

type, which I began to copy for my pleasure, as other chil- 
dren draw dogs and horses. The following inscription, 
facsimile'd from the fly-leaf of my Seven Champions of 
Christendom (judging from the independent views taken 
in it of the character of the letter L, and the relative eleva- 
tion of G,) I believe to be an extremely early art study of 
this class; and as by the will of Fors, the first lines of the 

ihir\ entettA the v#>u^ wW^t«o« 
So- M Alt *-. wu-^WmMB'OU 
Kv^ weaker/, *V^o*t $c«t *«rtl|j »«***« •«** 






note, written after an interval of fifty years, underneath my 
copy of it, in direction to Mr. Burgess, presented some 
notable points of correspondence with it, I thought it well 
he should engrave them together, as they stood. 

My mother had, as she afterwards told me, solemnly 
"devoted me to God" before I was born; in imitation of 
Hannah. 

Very good women are remarkably apt to make away 
with their children prematurely, in this manner: the real 
meaning of the pious act being, that, as the sons of Zebedee 
are not (or at least they hope not), to sit on the right and 
left of Christ, in His kingdom, their own sons may perhaps, 
they think, in time be advanced to that respectable position 
in eternal life; especially if they ask Christ very humbly for 



THE SPRINGS OF WANDEL 471 

it every day: and they always forget in the most naive way 
that the position is not His to give! 

"Devoting me to God," meant, as far as my mother knew 
herself what she meant, that she would try to send me to 
college, and make a clergyman of me: and I was accordingly 
bred for "the Church." My father, who — rest be to his soul 
— had the exceedingly bad habit of yielding to my mother 
in large things and taking his own way in little ones, al- 
lowed me, without saying a word, to be thus withdrawn 
from the sherry trade as an unclean thing; not without some 
pardonable participation in my mother's ultimate views for 
me. For, many and many a year afterwards, I remember, 
while he was speaking to one of our artist friends, who ad- 
mired Raphael, and greatly regretted my endeavours to 
interfere with that popular taste, — while my father and he 
were condoling with each other on my having been impu- 
dent enough to think I could tell the public about Turner 
and Raphael, — instead of contenting myself, as I ought, 
with explaining the way of their souls' salvation to them — 
and what an amiable clergyman was lost in me, — "Yes," 
said my father, with tears in his eyes — (true and tender 
tears, as ever father shed,) "he would have been a Bishop." 

Luckily for me, my mother, under these distinct impres- 
sions of her own duty, and with such latent hopes of my 
future eminence, took me very early to church; — where, in 
spite of my quiet habits, and my mother's golden vinai- 
grette, always indulged to me there, and there only, with its 
lid unclasped that I might see the wreathed open pattern 
above the sponge, I found the bottom of the pew so ex- 
tremely dull a place to keep quiet in, (my best storybooks 
being also taken away from me in the morning,) that, as I 
have somewhere said before, the horror of Sunday used even 
to cast its prescient gloom as far back in the week as Friday 
— and all the glory of Monday, with church seven days re- 
moved again, was no equivalent for it. 

Notwithstanding, I arrived at some abstract in my own 
mind of the Rev. Mr. Howell's sermons; and occasionally, 



472 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

in imitation of him, preached a sermon at home over the 
red sofa cushions; — this performance being always called 
for by my mother's dearest friends, as the great accomplish- 
ment of my childhood. The sermon was, I believe, some 
eleven words long; very exemplary, it seems to me, in that 
respect — and I still think must have been the purest gospel, 
for I know it began with, "People, be good." 

We seldom had company, even on week days; and I was 
never allowed to come down to dessert, until much later in 
life — when I was able to crack nuts neatly. I was then per- 
mitted to come down to crack other people's nuts for them 
— (I hope they liked the ministration) — but never to have 
any myself; nor anything else of dainty kind, either then or 
at other times. Once at Hunter Street, I recollect my mother 
giving me three raisins, in the forenoon, out of the store 
cabinet; and I remember perfectly the first time I tasted 
custard, in our lodgings in Norfolk Street — where we had 
gone while the house was being painted, or cleaned, or 
something. My father was dining in the front room, and did 
not finish his custard; and my mother brought me the bot- 
tom of it into the back room. 

But for the reader's better understanding of such further 
progress of my poor little life as I may trespass on his pa- 
tience in describing, it is now needful that I give some ac- 
count of my father's mercantile position in London. 

The firm of which he was head partner may be yet re- 
membered by some of the older city houses, as carrying on 
their business in a small counting-house on the first floor 
of narrow premises, in as narrow a thoroughfare of East 
London, — Billiter Street, the principal traverse from Lead- 
enhall Street into Fenchurch Street. 

The names of the three partners were given in full on 
their brass plate under the counting-house bell, — Ruskin, 
Telford, and Domecq. 

Mr. Domecq's name should have been the first, by rights, 
for my father and Mr. Telford were only his agents. He was 
the sole proprietor of the estate which was the main capital 



THE SPRINGS OF WANDEL 473 

of the firm, — the vineyard of Macharnudo, the most pre- 
cious hillside, for growth of white wine, in the Spanish 
peninsula. The quality of the Macharnudo vintage essen- 
tially fixed the standard of Xeres "sack," or "dry" — secco — 
sherris, or sherry, from the days of Henry the Fifth to our 
own; — the unalterable and unrivalled chalk-marl of it put- 
ting a strength into the grape which age can only enrich 
and darken, — never impair. 

Mr. Peter Domecq was, I believe, Spanish born; and 
partly French, partly English bred; a man of strictest hon- 
our, and kindly disposition; how descended, I do not know; 
how he became possessor of his vineyard, I do not know; 
what position he held, when young, in the firm of Gordon, 
Murphy, and Company, I do not know; but in their house 
he watched their head clerk, my father, during his nine 
years of duty, and when the house broke up, asked him to 
be his own agent in England. My father saw that he could 
fully trust Mr. Domecq's honour, and feeling; — but not so 
fully either his sense, or his industry; and insisted, though 
taking only his agent's commission, on being both nomin- 
ally, and practically, the head-partner of the firm. 

Mr. Domecq lived chiefly in Paris; rarely visiting his 
Spanish estate, but having perfect knowledge of the proper 
processes of its cultivation, and authority over its labourers 
almost like a chief's over his clan. He kept the wines at the 
highest possible standard; and allowed my father to manage 
all matters concerning their sale, as he thought best. The 
second partner, Mr. Henry Telford, brought into the busi- 
ness what capital was necessary for its London branch. The 
premises in Billiter Street belonged to him; and he had a 
pleasant country house at Widmore, near Bromley; a quite 
far-away Kentish village in those days. 

He was a perfect type of an English country gentleman 
of moderate fortune; unmarried, living with three unmar- 
ried sisters, — who, in the refinement of their highly edu- 
cated, unpretending, benevolent, and felicitous lives, remain 
in my memory more like the figures in a beautiful story than 






474 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

realities. Neither in story, nor in reality, have I ever again 
heard of, or seen, anything like Mr. Henry Telford; — so 
gentle, so humble, so affectionate, so clear in common 
sense, so fond of horses, — and so entirely incapable of doing, 
thinking, or saying, anything that had the slightest taint in 
it of the racecourse or the stable. 

Yet I believe he never missed any great race; passed the 
greater part of his life on horseback; and hunted during the 
whole Leicestershire season; but never made a bet, never 
had a serious fall, and never hurt a horse. Between him and 
my father there was absolute confidence, and the utmost 
friendship that could exist without community of pursuit. 
My father was greatly proud of Mr. Telford's standing 
among the country gentlemen; and Mr. Telford was af- 
fectionately respectful to my father's steady industry and 
infallible commercial instinct. Mr. Telford's actual part in 
the conduct of the business was limited to attendance in the 
counting-house during two months at Midsummer, when 
my father took his holiday, and sometimes for a month at 
the beginning of the year, when he travelled for orders. At 
these times Mr. Telford rode into London daily from Wid- 
more, signed what letters and bills needed signature, read 
the papers, and rode home again; any matters needing 
deliberation were referred to my father, or awaited his re- 
turn. All the family at Widmore would have been limitlessly 
kind to my mother and me, if they had been permitted any 
opportunity; but my mother always felt, in cultivated so- 
ciety, — and was too proud to feel with patience, — the defects 
of her own early education; and therefore (which was the 
true and fatal sign of such defect) never familiarly visited 
any one whom she did not feel to be, in some sort, her 
inferior. 

Nevertheless, Mr. Telford had a singularly important in- 
fluence in my education. By, I believe, his sisters' advice, he 
gave me, as soon as it was published, the illustrated edition 
of Rogers's Italy. This book was the first means I had of 
looking carefully at Turner's work: and I might, not with- 



THE SPRINGS OF WANDEL 475 

out some appearance of reason, attribute to the gift the 
entire direction of my life's energies. But it is the great 
error of thoughtless biographers to attribute to the accident 
which introduces some new phase of character, all the cir- 
cumstances of character which gave the accident importance. 
The essential point to be noted, and accounted for, was that 
I could understand Turner's work, when I saw it; — not by 
what chance, or in what year, it was first seen. Poor Mr. Tel- 
ford, nevertheless, was always held by papa and mamma 
primarily responsible for my Turner insanities. 

In a more direct, though less intended way, his help to 
me was important. For, before my father thought it right 
to hire a carriage for the above-mentioned Midsummer 
holiday, Mr. Telford always lent us his own travelling 
chariot. 

Now the old English chariot is the most luxurious of 
travelling carriages, for two persons, or even for two per- 
sons and so much of third personage as I possessed at three 
years old. The one in question was hung high, so that we 
could see well over stone dykes and average hedges out of 
it; such elevation being attained by the old-fashioned 
folding steps, with a lovely padded cushion fitting into the 
recess of the door, — steps which it was one of my chief 
travelling delights to see the hostlers fold up and down; 
though my delight was painfully alloyed by envious am- 
bition to be allowed to do it myself: — but I never was, — lest 
I should pinch my fingers. 

The "dickey," — (to think that I should never till this 
moment have asked myself the derivation of that word, and 
now be unable to get at it!) — being, typically, that com- 
manding seat in her Majesty's mail, occupied by the Guard; 
and classical, even in modern literature, as the scene of 
Mr. Bob Sawyer's arrangements with Sam, — was thrown 
far back in Mr. Telford's chariot, so as to give perfectly 
comfortable room for the legs (if one chose to travel outside 
on fine days), and to afford beneath it spacious area to the 
boot, a storehouse of rearward miscellaneous luggage. Over 



476 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

which — with all the rest of forward and superficial luggage 
— my nurse Anne presided, both as guard and packer; un- 
rivalled, she, in the flatness and precision of her in-laying of 
dresses, as in turning of pancakes; the fine precision, ob- 
serve, meaning also the easy wit and invention of her art; 
for, no more in packing a trunk than commanding a cam- 
paign, is precision possible without foresight. 

Among the people whom one must miss out of one's life, 
dead, or worse than dead, by the time one is past fifty, I 
can only say for my own part, that the one I practically and 
truly miss most next to father and mother, (and putting 
losses of imaginary good out of the question,) is this Anne, 
my father's nurse, and mine. She was one of our "many," 
(our many being always but few,) and from her girlhood to 
her old age, the entire ability of her life was given to serving 
us. She had a natural gift and speciality for doing disagree- 
able things; above all, the service of a sick room; so that she 
was never quite in her glory unless some of us were ill. She 
had also some parallel speciality for saying disagreeable 
things; and might be relied upon to give the extremely 
darkest view of any subject, before proceeding to amelio- 
rative action upon it. And she had a very creditable and 
republican aversion to doing immediately, or in set terms, 
as she was bid; so that when my mother and she got old 
together, and my mother became very imperative and par- 
ticular about having her teacup set on one side of her little 
round table, Anne would observantly and punctiliously put 
it always on the other; which caused my mother to state to 
me, every morning after breakfast, gravely, that if ever a 
woman in this world was possessed by the Devil, Anne was 
that woman. But in spite of these momentary and petulant 
aspirations to liberality and independence of character, 
poor Anne remained very servile in soul all her days; and 
was altogether occupied, from the age of fifteen to seventy- 
two, in doing other people's wills instead of her own, and 
seeking other people's good instead of her own: nor did I 



THE SPRINGS OF WANDEL 477 

ever hear on any occasion of her doing harm to a human 
being, except by saving two hundred and some odd pounds 
for her relations; in consequence of which some of them, 
after her funeral, did not speak to the rest for several 
months. 

The dickey then aforesaid, being indispensable for our 
guard Anne, was made wide enough for two, that my father 
might go outside also when the scenery and day were fine. 
The entire equipage was not a light one of its kind; but, the 
luggage being carefully limited, went gaily behind good 
horses on the then perfectly smooth mail roads; and posting, 
in those days, being universal, so that at the leading inns in 
every country town, the cry "Horses out!" down the yard, 
as one drove up, was answered, often instantly, always 
within five minutes, by the merry trot through the archway 
of the booted and bright-jacketed rider, with his capari- 
soned pair, — there was no driver's seat in front: and the four 
large, admirably fitting and sliding windows, admitting no 
drop of rain when they were up, and never sticking as they 
were let down, formed one large moving oriel, out of which 
one saw the country round, to the full half of the horizon. 
My own prospect was more extended still, for my seat was 
the little box containing my clothes, strongly made, with a 
cushion on one end of it; set upright in front (and well 
forward), between my father and mother. I was thus not the 
least in their way, and my horizon of sight the widest possi- 
ble. When no object of particular interest presented itself, I 
trotted, keeping time with the postboy on my trunk cushion 
for a saddle, and whipped my father's legs for horses; at 
first theoretically only, with dexterous motion of wrist; but 
ultimately in a quite practical and efficient manner, my 
father having presented me with a silver-mounted postil- 
lion's whip. 

The Midsummer holiday, for better enjoyment of which 
Mr. Telford provided us with these luxuries, began usually 
on the fifteenth of May, or thereabouts; — my father's birth- 



478 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

day was the tenth; on that day I was always allowed to 
gather the gooseberries for his first gooseberry pie of the 
year, from the tree between the buttresses on the north wall 
of the Herne Hill garden; so that we could not leave before 
that festa. The holiday itself consisted in a tour for orders 
through half the English counties; and a visit (if the coun- 
ties lay northward) to my aunt in Scotland. 

The mode of journeying was as fixed as that of our home 
life. We went from forty to fifty miles a day, starting always 
early enough in the morning to arrive comfortably to four 
o'clock dinner. Generally, therefore, getting off at six 
o'clock, a stage or two were done before breakfast, with the 
dew on the grass, and first scent from the hawthorns; if in 
the course of the midday drive there were any gentleman's 
house to be seen, — or, better still, a lord's— or, best of all, a 
duke's, — my father baited the horses, and took my mother 
and me reverently through the state rooms; always speaking 
a little under our breath to the housekeeper, major-domo, 
or other authority in charge; and gleaning worshipfully 
what fragmentary illustrations of the history and domestic 
ways of the family might fall from their lips. 

In analyzing above, page 464, the effect on my mind of all 
this, I have perhaps a little antedated the supposed resultant 
impression that it was probably happier to live in a small 
house than a large one. But assuredly, while I never to this 
day pass a lattice-windowed cottage without wishing to be 
its cottager, I never yet saw the castle which I envied to its 
lord; and although, in the course of these many worshipful 
pilgrimages, I gathered curiously extensive knowledge, both 
of art and natural scenery, afterwards infinitely useful, it is 
evident to me in retrospect that my own character and affec- 
tions were little altered by them; and that the personal 
feeling and native instinct of me had been fastened, irre- 
vocably, long before, to things modest, humble, and pure 
in peace, under the low red roofs of Croydon, and by the 
cress-set rivulets in which the sand danced and minnows 
darted above the Springs of Wandel. [Vol. I, Chap. 1] 



HERNE-HILL ALMOND BLOSSOMS 479 

H erne-Hill Almond Blossoms 

When I was about four years old my father found himself 
able to buy the lease of a house on Heme Hill, a rustic 
eminence four miles south of the "Standard in Cornhill"; 
of which the leafy seclusion remains, in all essential points 
of character, unchanged to this day: certain Gothic splen- 
dours, lately indulged in by our wealthier neighbours, being 
the only serious innovations; and these are so graciously 
concealed by the fine trees of their grounds, that the passing 
viator remains unappalled by them; and I can still walk 
up and down the piece of road between the Fox tavern and 
the Heme Hill station, imagining myself four years old. 

Our house was the northernmost of a group which stand 
accurately on the top or dome of the hill, where the ground 
is for a small space level, as the snows are, (I understand,) 
on the dome of Mont Blanc; presently falling, however, in 
what may be, in the London clay formation, considered a 
precipitous slope, to our valley of Chamouni (or of Dul- 
wich) on the east; and with a softer descent into Cold Har- 
bour-lane on the west: on the south, no less beautifully 
declining to the dale of the Effra, (doubtless shortened from 
Effrena, signifying the "Unbridled" river; recently, I regret 
to say, bricked over for the convenience of Mr. Biffin, chem- 
ist, and others); while on the north, prolonged indeed with 
slight depression some half mile or so, and receiving, in the 
parish of Lambeth, the chivalric title of "Champion Hill," 
it plunges down at last to efface itself in the plains of Peck- 
ham, and the rural barbarism of Goose Green. 

The group, of which our house was the quarter, con- 
sisted of two precisely similar partner-couples of houses, 
gardens and all to match; still the two highest blocks of 
buildings seen from Norwood on the crest of the ridge; so 
that the house itself, three-storied, with garrets above, com- 
manded, in those comparatively smokeless days, a very 
notable view from its garret windows, of the Norwood hills 



480 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

on one side, and the winter sunrise over them; and of the 
valley of the Thames on the other, with Windsor telescopi- 
cally clear in the distance, and Harrow, conspicuous always 
in fine weather to open vision against the summer sunset. It 
had front and back garden in sufficient proportion to its 
size; the front, richly set with old evergreens, and well- 
grown lilac and laburnum; the back, seventy yards long by 
twenty wide, renowned over all the hill for its pears and 
apples, which had been chosen with extreme care by our 
predecessor, (shame on me to forget the name of a man to 
whom I owe so much!) — and possessing also a strong old 
mulberry tree, a tall white-heart cherry tree, a black Kentish 
one, and an almost unbroken hedge, all round, of alternate 
gooseberry and currant bush; decked, in due season, (for 
the ground was wholly beneficent,) with magical splendour 
of abundant fruit: fresh green, soft amber, and rough- 
bristled crimson bending the spinous branches; clustered 
pearl and pendant ruby joyfully discoverable under the 
large leaves that looked like vine. 

The differences of primal importance which I observed 
between the nature of this garden, and that of Eden, as I 
had imagined it, were, that, in this one, all the fruit was 
forbidden; and there were no companionable beasts: in 
other respects the little domain answered every purpose of 
Paradise to me; and the climate, in that cycle of our years, 
allowed me to pass most of my life in it. My mother never 
gave me more to learn than she knew I could easily get 
learnt, if I set myself honestly to work, by twelve o'clock. 
She never allowed anything to disturb me when my task 
was set; if it was not said rightly by twelve o'clock, I was 
kept in till I knew it, and in general, even when Latin 
Grammar came to supplement the Psalms, I was my own 
master for at least an hour before half-past one dinner, and 
for the rest of the afternoon. 

My mother, herself finding her chief personal pleasure 
in her flowers, was often planting or pruning beside me, at 



HERNE-HILL ALMOND BLOSSOMS 481 

least if I chose to stay beside her. I never thought of doing 
anything behind her back which I would not have done 
before her face; and her presence was therefore no restraint 
to me; but, also, no particular pleasure, for, from having 
always been left so much alone, I had generally my own 
little affairs to see after; and, on the whole, by the time I 
was seven years old, was already getting too independent, 
mentally, even of my father and mother; and, having no- 
body else to be dependent upon, began to lead a very small, 
perky, contented, conceited, Cock-Robinson-Crusoe sort of 
life, in the central point which it appeared to me, (as it must 
naturally appear to geometrical animals,) that I occupied in 
the universe. 

This was partly the fault of my father's modesty; and 
partly of his pride. He had so much more confidence in my 
mother's judgment as to such matters than in his own, that 
he never ventured even to help, much less to cross her, in 
the conduct of my education; on the other hand, in the 
fixed purpose of making an ecclesiastical gentleman of me, 
with the superfinest of manners, and access to the highest 
circles of fleshly and spiritual society, the visits to Croydon, 
where I entirely loved my aunt, and young baker-cousins, 
became rarer and more rare: the society of our neighbours 
on the hill could not be had without breaking up our reg- 
ular and sweetly selfish manner of living; and on the whole, 
I had nothing animate to care for, in a childish way, but 
myself, some nests of ants, which the gardener would never 
leave undisturbed for me, and a sociable bird or two; 
though I never had the sense or perseverance to make one 
really tame. But that was partly because, if ever I managed 
to bring one to be the least trustful of me, the cats got it. 

Under these circumstances, what powers of imagination I 
possessed, either fastened themselves on inanimate things 
— the sky, the leaves, and pebbles, observable within the 
walls of Eden, — or caught at any opportunity of flight into 
regions of romance, compatible with the objective realities 



482 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

of existence in the nineteenth century, within a mile and a 
quarter of Camberwell Green. 

Herein my father, happily, though with no definite in- 
tention other than of pleasing me, when he found he could 
do so without infringing any of my mother's rules, became 
my guide. I was particularly fond of watching him shave; 
and was always allowed to come into his room in the morn- 
ing (under the one in which I am now writing), to be the 
motionless witness of that operation. Over his dressing-table 
hung one of his own water-colour drawings, made under the 
teaching of the elder Nasmyth; I believe, at the High School 
of Edinburgh. It was done in the early manner of tinting, 
which, just about the time when my father was at the High 
School, Dr. Monro was teaching Turner; namely, in grey 
under-tints of Prussian blue and British ink, washed with 
warm colour afterwards on the lights. It represented Con- 
way Castle, with its Frith, and, in the foreground, a cottage, 
a fisherman, and a boat at the water's edge. 

When my father had finished shaving, he always told me 
a story about this picture. The custom began without any 
initial purpose of his, in consequence of my troublesome 
curiosity whether the fisherman lived in the cottage, and 
where he was going to in the boat. It being settled, for 
peace' sake, that he did live in the cottage, and was going 
in the boat to fish near the castle, the plot of the drama 
afterwards gradually thickened; and became, I believe, in- 
volved with that of the tragedy of Douglas, and of the 
Castle Spectre, in both of which pieces my father had per- 
formed in private theatricals, before my mother, and a 
select Edinburgh audience, when he was a boy of sixteen, 
and she, at grave twenty, a model housekeeper, and very 
scornful and religiously suspicious of theatricals. But she 
was never weary of telling me, in later years, how beautiful 
my father looked in his Highland dress, with the high black 
feathers. 

In the afternoons, when my father returned (always 



HERNE-HILL ALMOND BLOSSOMS 483 

punctually) from his business, he dined, at half-past four, 
in the front parlour, my mother sitting beside him to hear 
the events of the day, and give counsel and encouragement 
with respect to the same; — chiefly the last, for my father 
was apt to be vexed if orders for sherry fell the least short 
of their due standard, even for a day or two. I was never 
present at this time, however, and only avouch what I relate 
by heresay and probable conjecture; for between four and 
six it would have been a grave misdemeanour in me if I 
so much as approached the parlour door. After that, in 
summer time, we were all in the garden as long as the day 
lasted; tea under the white-heart cherry tree; or in winter 
and rough weather, at six o'clock in the drawing-room, — I 
having my cup of milk, and slice of bread-and-butter, in a 
little recess, with a table in front of it, wholly sacred to me; 
and in which I remained in the evenings as an Idol in a 
niche, while my mother knitted, and my father read to her, 
— and to me, so far as I chose to listen. 

The series of the Waverley novels, then drawing towards 
its close, was still the chief source of delight in all house- 
holds caring for literature; and I can no more recollect the 
time when I did not know them than when I did not know 
the Bible; but I have still a vivid remembrance of my 
father's intense expression of sorrow mixed with scorn, as 
he threw down Count Robert of Paris, after reading three 
or four pages; and knew that the life of Scott was ended: 
the scorn being a very complex and bitter feeling in him, — 
partly, indeed, of the book itself, but chiefly of the wretches 
who were tormenting and selling the wrecked intellect, and 
not a little, deep down, of the subtle dishonesty which had 
essentially caused the ruin. My father never could forgive 
Scott his concealment of the Ballantyne partnership. 

Such being the salutary pleasures of Heme Hill, I have 
next with deeper gratitude to chronicle what I owe to my 
mother for the resolutely consistent lessons which so exer- 
cised me in the Scriptures as to make every word of them 



484 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

familiar to my ear in habitual music, — yet in that familiar- 
ity reverenced, as transcending all thought, and ordaining 
all conduct. 

This she effected, not by her own sayings or personal 
authority; but simply by compelling me to read the book 
thoroughly, for myself. As soon as I was able to read with 
fluency, she began a course of Bible work with me, which 
never ceased till I went to Oxford. She read alternate verses 
with me, watching, at first, every intonation of my voice, 
and correcting the false ones, till she made me understand 
the verse, if within my reach, rightly, and energetically. It 
might be beyond me altogether; that she did not care about; 
but she made sure that as soon as I got hold of it at all, I 
should get hold of it by the right end. 

In this way she began with the first verse of Genesis, and 
went straight through, to the last verse of the Apocalypse; 
hard names, numbers, Levitical law, and all; and began 
again at Genesis the next day. If a name was hard, the bet- 
ter the exercise in pronunciation, — if a chapter was tire- 
some, the better lesson in patience, — if loathsome, the better 
lesson in faith that there was some use in its being so out- 
spoken. After our chapters, (from two to three a day, ac- 
cording to their length, the first thing after breakfast, and 
no interruption from servants allowed, — none from visitors, 
who either joined in the reading or had to stay upstairs, — 
and none from any visitings or excursions, except real travel- 
ling,) I had to learn a few verses by heart, or repeat, to make 
sure I had not lost, something of what was already known; 
and, with the chapters thus gradually possessed from the 
first word to the last, I had to learn the whole body of the 
fine old Scottish paraphrases, which are good, melodious, 
and forceful verse; and to which, together with the Bible 
itself, I owe the first cultivation of my ear in sound. 

It is strange that of all the pieces of the Bible which my 
mother thus taught me, that which cost me most to learn, 
and which was, to my child's mind, chiefly repulsive — the 
119th Psalm — has now become of all the most precious to 






HERNE-HILL ALMOND BLOSSOMS 485 

me, in its overflowing and glorious passion of love for the 
Law of God, in opposition to the abuse of it by modern 
preachers of what they imagine to be His gospel. 

But it is only by deliberate effort that I recall the long 
morning hours of toil, as regular as sunrise, — toil on both 
sides equal — by which, year after year, my mother forced 
me to learn these paraphrases, and chapters, (the eighth of 
1st Kings being one — try it, good reader, in a leisure hour!) 
allowing not so much as a syllable to be missed or misplaced; 
while every sentence was required to be said over and over 
again till she was satisfied with the accent of it. I recollect 
a struggle between us of about three weeks, concerning the 
accent of the "of" in the lines 

"Shall any following spring revive 
The ashes of the urn?" — 

I insisting, partly in childish obstinacy, and partly in true 
instinct for rhythm, (being wholly careless on the subject 
both of urns and their contents,) on reciting it with an ac- 
cented of. It was not, I say, till after three weeks' labour, 
that my mother got the accent lightened on the "of" and 
laid on the ashes, to her mind. But had it taken three years 
she would have done it, having once undertaken to do it. 
And, assuredly, had she not done it, — well, there's no know- 
ing what would have happened; but I'm very thankful she 
did. 

I have just opened my oldest (in use) Bible, — a small, 
closely, and very neatly printed volume it is, printed in 
Edinburgh by Sir D. Hunter Blair and J. Bruce, Printers to 
the King's Most Excellent Majesty, in 1816. Yellow, now, 
with age; and flexible, but not unclean, with much use; 
except that the lower corners of the pages at 8th of 1st 
Kings, and 32nd Deuteronomy, are worn somewhat thin and 
dark, the learning of these two chapters having cost me 
much pains. My mother's list of the chapters with which, 
thus learned, she established my soul in life, has just fallen 
out of it. I will take what indulgence the incurious reader 



486 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

can give me, for printing the list thus accidentally occur- 
rent: — 



Exodus 


chapters 


15th and 20th. 


2 Samuel 


<( 


1st, from 17th verse to the end. 


1 Kings 


tt 


8th. 


Psalms 


<< 


23rd, 32nd, 90th, 91st, 103rd, 
112th, 119th, 139th. 


Proverbs 


t< 


2nd, 3rd, 8th, 12th. 


Isaiah 


et 


58th. 


Matthew 


t< 


5th, 6th, 7th. 


Acts 


<t 


26th. 


1 Corinthians 


tt 


13th, 15th. 


James 


tt 


4th. 


Revelation 


tt 


5th, 6th. 



And truly, though I have picked up the elements of a 
little further knowledge — in mathematics, meteorology, and 
the like, in after life, — and owe not a little to the teaching 
of many people, this maternal installation of my mind in 
that property of chapters I count very confidently the most 
precious, and, on the whole, the one essential part of all 
my education. 

And it is perhaps already time to mark what advantage 
and mischief, by the chances of life up to seven years old, 
had been irrevocably determined for me. 

I will first count my blessings (as a not unwise friend once 
recommended me to do, continually; whereas I have a bad 
trick of always numbering the thorns in my fingers and not 
the bones in them). 

And for the best and truest beginning of all blessings, I 
had been taught the perfect meaning of Peace, in thought, 
act, and word. 

I never had heard my father's or mother's voice once 
raised in any question with each other; nor seen an angry, 
or even slightly hurt or offended, glance in the eyes of 
either. I had never heard a servant scolded; nor even sud- 
denly, passionately, or in any severe manner, blamed. I had 



HERNE-HILL ALMOND BLOSSOMS 487 

never seen a moment's trouble or disorder in any household 
matter; nor anything whatever either done in a hurry, or 
undone in due time. I had no conception of such a feeling 
as anxiety; my father's occasional vexation in the after- 
noons, when he had only got an order for twelve butts after 
expecting one for fifteen, as I have just stated, was never 
manifested to me; and itself related only to the question 
whether his name would be a step higher or lower in the 
year's list of sherry exporters; for he never spent more than 
half his income, and therefore found himself little incom- 
moded by occasional variations in the total of it. I had 
never done any wrong that I knew of — beyond occasionally 
delaying the commitment to heart of some improving sen- 
tence, that I might watch a wasp on the window pane, or a 
bird in the cherry tree; and I had never seen any grief. 

Next to this quite priceless gift of Peace, I had received 
the perfect understanding of the natures of Obedience and 
Faith. I obeyed word, or lifted finger, of father or mother, 
simply as a ship her helm; not only without idea of resist- 
ance, but receiving the direction as a part of my own life 
and force, and helpful law, as necessary to me in every moral 
action as the law of gravity in leaping. And my practice in 
Faith was soon complete: nothing was ever promised me 
that was not given; nothing ever threatened me that was 
not inflicted, and nothing ever told me that was not true. 

Peace, obedience, faith; these three for chief good; next 
to these, the habit of fixed attention with both eyes and 
mind — on which I will not further enlarge at this moment, 
this being the main practical faculty of my life, causing 
Mazzini to say of me, in conversation authentically reported, 
a year or two before his death, that I had "the most analytic 
mind in Europe." An opinion in which, so far as I am 
acquainted with Europe, I am myself entirely disposed to 
concur. 

Lastly, an extreme perfection in palate and all other 
bodily senses, given by the utter prohibition of cake, wine, 
comfits, or, except in carefullest restriction, fruit; and by 



488 THE GENIUS OF JOHN RUSKIN 

fine preparation of what food was given me. Such I esteem 
the main blessings of my childhood; — next, let me count 
the equally dominant calamities. 

First, that I had nothing to love. 

My parents were — in a sort — visible powers of nature to 
me, no more loved than the sun and the moon: only I 
should have been annoyed and puzzled if either of them had 
gone out; (how much, now, when both are darkened!) — 
still less did I love God; not that I had any quarrel with 
Him, or fear of Him; but simply found what people told 
me was His service, disagreeable; and what people told me 
was His book, not entertaining. I had no companions to 
quarrel with, neither; nobody to assist, and nobody to 
thank. Not a servant was ever allowed to do anything for 
me, but what it was their duty to do; and why should 
I have been grateful to the cook for cooking, or the gar- 
dener for gardening, — when the one dared not give me a 
baked potato without asking leave, and the other would not 
let my ants' nests alone, because they made the walks un- 
tidy? The evil consequence of all this was not, however, 
what might perhaps have be